Tess Vigeland: Time now for the latest in our occasional essay series Senior Moment. A look at the economics of the 65-and-above crowd with our favorite baby boomer, Judy Muller. Today, that age-old preoccupation -- the fountain of youth.
Judy Muller: I'm not sure when, exactly, I began to obsessively clip articles on research aimed at combatting the aging process. Certainly, the fact that I still cut out actual newspaper articles is a sign that I'm in the right demographic.
Anyway, one of those articles stands out -- about research on mice at the Mayo Clinic. The researchers identified something called "senescent cells," the bad actors that promote aging -- everything from weak muscles to wrinkles, arthritis to arteriosclerosis. The mice were given a drug that forces those cells to self-destruct. The result? No cataracts, no arthritic paws, more quality time on their little mouse treadmills!
What does this mean for us? Given the fact that some 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 18 years, this is pretty tantalizing news. The researchers hasten to point out that an actual anti-aging drug is a long way off. Even so, this is a huge step towards the day when we live not just longer but better. And the market is enormous: A recent study by the Senior Publisher Media Group found that the out of pocket prescription drug costs for seniors averaged a total of $1.5 billion per month.
For the generation that once popped pills for all the wrong reasons, and now has no compunction about popping pills for what we believe are all the right reasons, a pill that would delay the aging process seems the natural next step.
Then again, there could be a downside. Comedian Albert Brooks has glimpsed this future in his satirical novel "2030." That's the year, by the way, when nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65. Brooks imagines a time when cancer has been cured and rejuvenation drugs are taken for everything from failing joints to failing memories, leaving hordes of spry senior citizens to hog most of the country's resources. Young people, in response, have formed "resentment gangs," which begin to hunt down "the olds," as they call them. So perhaps I should refile the mice research story under "watch out what you ask for." And then hop back up on that treadmill.
Vigeland: Judy Muller teaches journalism at USC's Annenberg School for Communication.