NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 2, 2008

For the first time in recorded history we are beginning to see the entire life cycle unfolding for a majority of the population in developed nations, says Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert N. Butler.  The concept of old age itself is undergoing constant redefinition.  At one time, we assumed the last part of life was synonymous with disease and decline.


  • The aging population in the past few decades is increasingly represented by vigorous, robust older people.
  • More than half of all Americans over the age of 85 report no significant disability whatsoever.
  • Instead, these elderly pioneers are changing medicine, changing their communities and voting in significant numbers.

Butler's book, "The Longevity Revolution," looks at exactly why more of us are reaching old age, how we might live longer still, and how society can adapt to meet the needs of an aging population.  He also offers a few interesting societal prescriptions:

  • The most debilitating diseases of old age aren't necessarily the ones that kill you, which means that delaying their onset would be a major victory.
  • If researchers developed drugs or treatments that could delay Alzheimer's disease by five years, it would reduce its incidence by 50 percent.


  • If we want more old people to postpone retirement, we could delay the age at which people qualify for Social Security payments and simultaneously lower the Medicare-eligibility age.
  • This would make older workers more attractive to employers, who wouldn't have to pay for their health insurance.

Rather than long retirements at the end of life, people might be better served by taking sabbaticals throughout their lives and continuing to work as their health allows, says Butler.

Source: Laura Vaderkam, "Still Health After All These Years," The American, April 15, 2008.

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