Dogs versus dogs: BU's Terriers against NU's Huskies in the Beanpot Tournament, 8 p.m., Monday, February 5, at the Fleet Center

Vol. IV No. 21   ·   2 February 2001 


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Do you think there will come a time in the near future when we will live to be as old as 110, 120, or even 150? What will the quality of life be for us then? Will we still be active, both physically and mentally?

In the past couple of weeks, more than 200 birthday candles have been lit -- for two people.

Antonio Todde, an Italian shepherd listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest man, celebrated his 112th birthday by downing a glass of red wine -- the secret, he says, of his longevity. And Gayirkhan Irishkanov, a Russian who enlisted to fight in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, just turned either 112, as his documents indicate, or 134, as he claims.

Elizabeth Markson, director of BU's Gerontology Center, points out that just a few years ago, a French woman named Jeanne Calment died at the age of 122. "She was healthy mentally and physically, except for deafness," she says.

"Research on centenarians shows that they are the most rapidly increasing proportion of the American population," says Markson, "and many are in good health. Some even live independently, and surveys indicate also that health is improving among the elderly. Those who are 70 years old today are physically and mentally much more like people aged 50 a half-century ago."

What has changed over the past century, she says, are both life expectancy -- a statistical average of how long people, at birth, can expect to live -- and the rate of infant and childhood mortality, which has decreased and means that more children are likely to live into old age than ever before. "Although some people in the past did survive to grow old -- Benjamin Franklin is a prime example -- the average life expectancy in Franklin's time was about 30 or 35," Markson points out. Franklin, who was born in 1706 and died in 1790, was active throughout his later years, negotiating treaties with Great Britain and France and presiding over the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery when he was 81.

"Although it is too soon to know with certainty, advances in genetic engineering may well enable people to live far longer than Jeanne Calment," Markson says. "But it is likely, alas, that the cost of genetic modifications enabling healthy, long lives will be limited to those who are able to afford them."

"Ask the Bridge" welcomes readers’ questions. E-mail or write to "Ask the Bridge," 10 Lenox Street, Brookline, MA 02446.


2 February 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations