Palo Alto Weekly

- March 1, 2013

Senior Focus

THE NEW 55 ... It's not just a joke on a birthday card — age 65 really is approximately the new 55, says Stanford economist John Shoven. Today's 65-year-old has the same mortality and health that 54-year-olds had in 1947. If we don't fix antiquated retirement systems in the United States and elsewhere that cannot support longer life spans, "it's going to stress our economies even more," Shoven told the Stanford News Service. Though Social Security is "quite secure" for people now 55 and older, reform is urgently needed, he said. Basically, Social Security benefits are going to have to be cut and they're probably going to be cut most for high earners. People who have a long and lucrative career will almost certainly get less than in the current law.

LONGER LIFE SPANS ... Over the next 30 years the U.S. population 65 and over will double from 40 million to 80 million and the share of seniors will increase from 13 percent to 20 percent, says the Stanford Center on Longevity. By the time the last Baby Boomer turns 65 in 2029, one in five Americas will be 65 or older. By 2032, there will be more people 65 and older than children under 15. Founded in 2006, the Center on Longevity researches ways to redesign systems for longer life spans and to use science and technology to solve problems related to aging.

A SILVER LINING TO GRAY ... As people grow older they tend to become more emotionally stable, according to a 2010 Stanford study. And that translates into longer, more productive lives that offer more benefits than problems, said lead author Laura Carstensen. "As people age, they're more emotionally balanced and better able to solve highly emotional problems," said Carstensen, a psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. "We may be seeing a larger group of people who can get along with a greater number of people. They care more and are more compassionate about problems, and that may lead to a more stable world." Between 1993 and 2005 Carstensen and her colleagues tracked about 180 Americans between the ages of 18 and 94. For one week every five years, the study participants carried pagers and were asked to immediately respond to a series of questions whenever the devices buzzed. The periodic quizzes were intended to chart how happy, satisfied and comfortable they were at any given time. While previous research established a correlation between aging and happiness, Carstensen's study was the first to track the same people over a long period of time to examine how they changed.

CELLS AND AGING ... Healthy menopausal women carrying a well-known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease showed measurable signs of accelerated biological aging, a new study has found. However, in carriers who started hormone therapy at menopause and remained on that therapy, this acceleration was absent, the researchers said. Hormone therapy for non-carriers of the risk factor, a gene variant called ApoE4, had no protective effect on their biological aging. "This shows that ApoE4 is contributing to aging at the cellular level well before any outward symptoms of decline become apparent," saidNatalie Rasgon, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine and director of the Stanford Center for Neuroscience in Women's Health. "Yet, estrogen appears to have a protective effect for middle-aged women who are carrying this genetic risk factor." Rasgon is the senior author of a study involving 70 relatively well-educated, high-functioning women and published online Feb. 13 in PLOS ONE. First author Emily Jacobs, is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. When the work took place, Jacobs was associated with the lab of another study co-author, Elissa Epel, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California-San Francisco.

Another co-author of the study is Elizabeth Blackburn, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, who won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for her work elucidating the mechanism by which intracellular features called telomeres act as biological clocks.

Items for Senior Focus may be emailed to Palo Alto Weekly Staff Writer Chris Kenrick, ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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