Hope I die before I get (too) old

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

When it comes to life spans, we are the chosen ones.

The odds are very good that you will live longer than any of your ancestors, perhaps by many years. If you happen to be of the male persuasion, you currently could expect to live to age 76. If you are a woman, the needle spikes to 81. And those are just averages.

For some quick perspective, consider that those numbers were south of 50 just a century ago. And by all indications, the upward life-expectancy trend will only get more pronounced in the coming years.

So what should the old-age goal be? A recent survey from the Pew Research Center reveals a somewhat surprising answer.

Among respondents, the median ideal life span is 90 years — about 11 years longer than the current average U.S. life expectancy for men and women combined. Few survey participants welcomed the prospect of adding much more than that. In fact, almost two-thirds (60%) don't want to see a 90th birthday. More than 2,000 adults participated in the survey.

While participants expressed optimism that many aging-related diseases might be conquered, they saw this largely as a benefit for others. In fact, 56% indicated they would not want to personally take treatments that could slow the aging process in a way that might allow life up until age 120.

To understand why so many people don't want to tack on additional decades, it may be helpful to take a good look at your facility's dining area. Be honest: Is that how you want to live your final years? And for many people, therein lies the problem.

When we consider living for a century or more, we usually don't typically envision good health and happy days as the norm. Instead, we tend to see the frailty, dementia, pain and other indignities that can accompany an unusually long life.

But regardless of how long we'd prefer to live, the fact remains that we are an aging nation. By 2050, one-in-five Americans will be 65 or older, and at least 400,000 will be 100 or older. Like it or not, many of us are going to live to an age that once seemed absurd.

Humans have long dreamed of living past the magical biblical number of 70 years. Or to be more specific, “threescore years and 10.” For many potential beneficiaries, however, this dream seems to look more like a nightmare.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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