50,000 Fewer Dead in 2004

The annual death rate in the United States declined by 49,945 in 2004 according to a report released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics. The preliminary count of U.S. deaths in 2004 was 2,398,343 versus 2,448,288 recorded in 2003. (In the same period, the overall population grew by an estimated 2.8 million.) An Associated Press story by Mike Stobbe gave some details:

Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death, accounting
for 27 percent of the nation’s deaths in 2004. Cancer was second, at
about 23 percent, and strokes were third, at 6 percent.

The good news: The age-adjusted death rate for all three killers
dropped. The heart disease rate declined more than 6 percent, the
cancer rate about 3 percent, and the stroke rate about 6.5 percent.

"It’s kind of
historical," said the report’s lead author Arialdi Minino. A six percent drop in cancer and stroke death is a good thing, unles your job is raising money: "We will not make much of this until the final data come out," said
Elizabeth Ward of the American
Cancer Society.

The Coming Shortage of Dead People


Demography is destiny, and the destiny of the developed world is to have more old people. The two charts above (click to enlarge) from the U.S. Census Bureau report 65+ in the United States [PDF] show two snapshots of the U.S. population in 1940 and 2000. On the left, starting at the bottom, most young people live to adulthood and then start dying off evenly at each age until very few people are left alive at the top of the spear, ages 80 and over.

The last half-century’s advances in medicine automation and world peace make the age needle flatten out. As a proportion of the population, twice as many people live past 65 today, and five time as many live past 85. Folks who would have been dead otherwise now live on to spend their children’s inheritance, collect social security and demand free drugs from the government.

Slate’s William Saletan covered the impact of all this destiny in a weekend article "Bygone Era: Old Age is changing. So should Social Security." His opening line: "The bad news is, we’re living longer."  The solution: Work longer (like past 70), curb early retirements, and needs-test Social Security.

(The title of this item comes from last year’s Atlantic Monthly article "The Coming Death Shortage" by Charles C. Mann. [$$])

Aubrey de Grey on 60 Minutes

60min Last night, CBS News 60 Minutes covered "The Quest for Immortality" featuring an interview with Aubrey de Grey, keynote speaker at the Health IC Summit that I’m chairing in New York later this month. Aubrey’s matter-of-fact approach to the issues of extreme life extension, what he calls Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, makes it difficult to argue that aging is inevitable or that we shouldn’t try to find a cure for it. Ironically, his mildly skeptical and long-past-retirement-age interviewer was Morley Safer (age 74) who works with Andy Rooney (age 86) and Mike Wallace (age 87) on a program whose average viewer is pushing 60. The balancing view came from Jay Olshansky at the University of Illinois. It mainly amounts to "the search for immortality is always futile."

The web video starts with a short piece on Ray Kurzweil, although I don’t remember that from last night’s broadcast. The site has Firefox compatibility problems, so you may need to use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to see the clip. You can get the transcript here.

Aubrey de Grey’s Health IC Summit keynote is scheduled for Wednesday, January 25, 2006.

Dychtwald on “The Consequences of Human Life Extension”

One of the most disruptive consequences of disruptive healthcare innovation is increased longevity, the extension of the human life span to 100 or more years. We’re thinking about dedicating the third day of the Health IC Summit in January to the impact and opportunities of Life Extension. I’ve been spending a lot of time this month trying to separate the real applications from the wide-eyed fanaticisms. One of the best things I’ve heard is a 2 hour seminar by Ken Dychtwald, the pioneering author of Age Wave and other studies of the aging of America and the world.

LongnowSponsored last December by the brilliant Long Now Foundation that thinks in terms of the next 10,000 years, The Consequences of Human Life Extension is a brilliant and wide-ranging discourse on the social, political and commercial implications of longer life. Dychtwald is a great speaker, a platinum performer on the corporate conference circuit, and in this talk he riffs on big questions about the quality, purpose, cost and intergenerational equity of longer life. One of his key points ponders the prevalence of Alzheimers Disease:

The dementia rate among the 85-and-over population in the world right now is 47% … So now, we come up with a breakthrough so that nobody has heart disease. Fabulous. Except you’re going to create 20 million demented people.

Start listening after the un-miked Q&A warmup, about 13 minutes after the introduction by host Stewart Brand. Long Now posts both Ogg Vorbis Format and conventional MP3 Format.