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Dying young at a ripe old age

“People age slowly or all at once.”

That phrase opened an article in a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine titled “Can We Live Longer but Stay Younger?” It was extracted from Hemingway’s description of bankruptcy — and the parallels should not be ignored.

I borrow liberally from the author, Adam Gopnik, in this week’s column. He prompted me to contemplate aging differently.

The slow way of aging is described as, “Decades pass with little sense of internal change a name lost, a lumbar ache, a sprinkling of white hairs.”

The fast way is often previewed at your annual wellness exam when your physician says, “There are some signs here that concern me.” It’s described as “a series of lurches a hand trembles when it hadn’t, a hip breaks.”

My question is: What if we had access to information that kept us on the slow track of aging — younger longer. Would we get better at this process of aging — embrace it more positively and become more adept at planning? Maybe.

The AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a “sudden aging” suit. They named it AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System). It apparently includes things like “yellow glasses that convey a sense of the yellowing of the ocular lens,” a neck harness and bindings that simulate extremity stiffness. There are padded boots and gloves that mimic loss of tactile sensitivity. Wearing AGNES reportedly makes every task harder. A lot harder. It “interrupts the flow of life.”

The flow of life for many of us trips along relatively smoothly until about the middle of our sixth decade. A statistic like “every eight seconds a baby boomer turns 73” reminds us about our likely longevity. After “retirement,” we often have 30 more years of life. That means “old” encompasses one-third of our time on Earth.

Younger-longer is a necessity as well as a grand opportunity. The AgeLab was set up to encourage new awareness about managing longevity and as a “chance to create new stories, new rituals, new technologies.” MIT experts “engineer and promote new products and services” designed for the exploding market of aging adults. The problem is, we the people — the ones turning 73 every eight seconds — don’t always want them. We don’t like things that remind us we are old. We want convenience and ease of use, but we do not want it to be labeled “senior-something.”

If this is as intriguing to you as it is to me, you might consider purchasing “The Longevity Paradox” by cardiac surgeon Steven R. Gundry. The subtitle of that book is “How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age.” Prompted by the New Yorker article, I just launched into that book. It poses a different angle on the same issue. The author points out that the “diseases” of aging are a byproduct of how we lived our lives. The chapter title says a lot. Chapter 3 talks about “What You Think is Keeping You Young is Probably Making You Old.” Read that chapter first.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator and executive director of Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.