Our obsession with living longer comes with costs that we mostly want to ignore. We don’t want to believe that, of course. We want to believe that there has been a “compression of morbidity”, as Stanford’s James Fries put it in a widely-cited NEJM paper in 1980. He argued that by delaying the onset of infirmities we could, in an aging population, compress morbidity, creating a more rectangular curve where we have a short period of awfulness at the end of our longer lives, and then we die. As much as anything related to mortality, infirmity, and the like can be, this is an appealing-ish thought.
It turns out, however, that it isn’t true. According to a new paper in the Journal of Gerontology, those later years are plagued by all those infirmities we had hoped to compress. Far from being LZW crammed down to teeniness, our lengthening lives are causing us to spend disproportionately longer time infirm. Consider this:
A 20-year-old man today can expect to live about a year longer than a 20-year-old in 1998, but will spend 1.2 years more with a disease, and 2 more years unable to function normally. [NYT]
It is an unhappy thought. Longer lives lead us to longer time spent with all the infirmities than make us wonder why we wanted longer lives in the first place.
The upshot? Burn the candle at both ends. Ignore everyone who tells you not to, who says that life is a marathon, or that you should plan to enjoy your golden years. Ignore those idiots. Instead, burn the wick up now, and don’t waste a second on things that don’t seem worthwhile.
As a cheerier aside, I have decided that my fake Coachella band name “Rabbits in the Precambrian” needs to have “Compression of Morbidity” as an opening act. It’s that good an expression.