Are We Living Longer?

Jun 5, 2014 by


I started to listen with interest to a topic on Sean Moncrieff’s afternoon programme on Newstalk the other day. He was interviewing an expert on Alzheimer’s and Dementia. As the interview progressed I went from interest to disbelief. He said that we were living longer since the 80’s and this was why there had been such a huge increase in these diseases.

Now it takes significantly longer than 30 years for an evolutionary increase in age expectancy. I read recently that we were not living longer than our predecessors over a hundred years ago. In fact average life expectancy has hardly changed at all. What has changed is that there is significantly less infant mortality. A hundred years ago a large number of young children and babies would have died from something as curable as a cold or a flu. Similarly, lots of young adults and middle aged people died from diseases that are largely curable today. However, many many people lived well into their eighties and nineties. It would be interesting to research how many of them suffered from Alzheimer’s/Dementia.

I would hazard a guess a lot less than are now. What this expert did say (which was interesting) was that there has been an explosion in the incidence since the 80’s.

It was on my mind and when I was in Wexford recently and I climbed over the wall of a very old graveyard. I walked around and tried to make out the writing on the old lichened gravestones. What I did discover was that there were a large number of octogenarians and nonagenarians commemorated. There was equally a large number of infants, children, teenagers and adults aged in their 40-50s. All of these would probably have survived nowadays due to advances in medicine, antibiotics and access to better nutrition and health care.

I think it has to be a bit simplistic to say that had all those people lived longer that they would have also succumbed to Alzheimer’s/Dementia.

My mother from a long lived family says she doesn’t remember anyone in her town in the west of Ireland with Alzheimer’s/Dementia. My mother was a nurse and worked in the local hospital there so I’m sure she would have been aware.  Her own mother died aged 94 in 1981 and my grandfather aged 88 in the seventies. Her grandparents (my great grandparents) were also well into their eighties. She has also insisted for years that there wasn’t as much cancer then either or other degenerative diseases. There was no Autism, no Irritable Bowl Syndrome but there was one case of Multiple Sclerosis and the whole town knew about it. Now you can say that these cases were undiagnosed in that they were not named but they would have still been described. Not only were they not diagnosed or named but they were not described either. Which would indicate they hadn’t occurred…….?

So what has changed?

Is it too simplistic to assume it’s something as simple as food? Or overuse of antibiotics? Or pesticide residues, Or GMOs? 

I really wonder? Do you?

(My dad age 81 was diagnosed with vascular dementia a good few years ago so I have an interest in the disease.)

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