The United States
is a very young country. It is less than 300 years old. In that time,
life spans have increased dramatically. When this country became a
country, people in their 30s were becoming grandparents. People in
their 40s were dying of old age. Today, many couples do not start to
At the other end of
the age spectrum is infancy. One of the reasons people had many
children, as recently as 100 yours ago, was that most children did not
survive until they became adults. In those days, children died of
diseases we have since eliminated or now consider minor.
Along with the increased life expectancy, has come a higher occurrence of many diseases. Many of these are diseases that were considered old age diseases. Others were grouped under the title of “death by natural causes.” A third group are illnesses that are a delayed reaction to diseases that people died of but are now surviving. Most of us are either survivors or are related to survivors of such diseases. Many of us do not even know that we were spared from diseases like polio, the flu or allergies.
On top of all of these diseases, the house, travel and the workplace have become safer. Instead of blazing fires or potbelly stoves, we have safe stoves and ovens. People with missing limbs or blinded by explosions are now rare. According to the CDC infant mortality has dropped from 58.1% to 7% just since 1933.
When we were children, people over 60 were few. The average age was in the twenties. Today, both life expectancy and the average age are increasing. A person over 50 was usually infirmed and with dentures. Today, they are in the athletic clubs and starting new businesses.
Medications and other treatments that had a cumulative or delayed side effect, in many cases, were never seen, even 50 years ago. Today, we see these side effects just because people are living longer. Add to this that, since we see them more often, we have learned to diagnose conditions that were rare because people just did not live as long.
As the average age increases, so does the expectation that we should have a higher quality of life. After Dave’s fiftieth birthday we kayaked on a wild river in Alaska, crossed above a rain forest on a cable, swam in a cave with lights on our heads, climbed and slid down waterfalls, all in the ten years between then and now.
After a recent hike that ended in a long climb, with a relative who is more then ten years younger, Dave turned to the relative and said “well I can tell I am not forty five any more.” The response was “you did as well as I did.” Dave answered that at forty five he was so out of shape that he would have been out of breath and near fainting.
The longer you live the more experiences you have. The more experiences you have, the greater the chance that one of them will go awry. On the other hand, if you minimize experiences, are you really living? If a person experiences nothing, we say they are in a coma.
The paradox is simple; we are healthier so we live longer. We live longer so more of us experience and survive accidents and illnesses. Of course, the number of people who have had more than one occurrence of cancer is growing; fifty years ago cancer was almost always a sentence of death. There are survivors of many illnesses and diseases.
The same is true of accidents. When the automobile was young, a crash at thirty miles per hour almost always ended in someone dieing. Today, there are fewer accidents and, with better construction and airbags, deaths rarer. That does not mean that they have gone away, but that there are a greater percent of people who have been in an auto accident and have survived.
There is a second paradox, because more people are living longer the cumulative effects of medications, chemical additives and even fertilizers are being seen. People are turning back to the old, natural treatments. Organic and natural foods are no longer the exclusive realm of health food stores. They have become mainstream. Enjoy the paradox.