Reading List

Forever Young

Books and Web sites about how to avoid getting old, or at least looking old.

How to fend off the effects of age

Recently scientists discovered that the Grand Canyon, which they had thought was 6 million years old, was actually 17 million years old. This is a heartening development for the ever-growing bulge of Americans staring into the crevasse of old age: It gives hope that it’s possible to be 17 million years old but not look a day over 6 million!

Preventing, delaying, and hiding aging is an explosive growth industry. Americans over 65 make up about 12 percent of the population today. By 2030 they’re expected to be 20 percent. There is a two-prong strategy for trying to stop time. The first is to find the right combination of food, exercise, supplements, and medical interventions to extend your life into triple digits. The second (and these aren’t mutually exclusive) is to take advantage of various external manipulations in order to turn yourself into a permanent simulacrum of, if not quite youth, then perpetually youthful, indeterminate middle age.

For the former, check out the Methuselah Foundation, headed by Cambridge University Ph.D. Aubrey de Grey (who himself has a Methuselah-looking, though not gray, chest-long beard). De Grey believes science will soon be able to achieve his goal of a human lifespan of 1,000 years. This is not because he likes to envision the feuds that will erupt over whose house the great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren will spend Thanksgiving at, but because he sees aging as a form of “slaughter” of once-productive people. His Web site has lots of information about the latest thinking on the molecular processes of aging and how to stop them.

At the New England Centenarian Study, scientists are looking at the characteristics of what they say is the fastest-growing segment of the population: people 100 or older. Amazingly, the research, led by Dr. Thomas Perls of Boston University School of Medicine, has found that our oldest old tend to be in remarkable shape—90 percent lived independently into their 90s, and many maintain excellent brain function. While centenarians come from all educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, they are almost always lean, usually didn’t smoke, and chose their families well—many have close relatives who also got to be ancient. The site also has a quiz that gives you an estimate of how long you’ve got left.

The National Institute on Aging has basic information on aging problems from Alzheimer’s to constipation to eye floaters, but the most interactive feature is the clinical trials page, where you can see if you qualify to participate in a study. Reading through the trials gives you a peek into what interventions scientists are hoping might be the fountain of youth. (Clearly some think the fountain is bubbling with fish oil.)

If you haven’t got time for science to come up with a way to actually stop aging, best-selling author Charla Krupp in her book How Not To Look Old has endless tips on how to appear as if you’ve personally decided not to get older. Krupp says her advice is not merely a tribute to vanity but a strategy for survival. To continue to thrive in their careers, boomer women must look Y&H (young and hip) because it’s off on the corporate ice floe the moment you look OL (old lady). So get some bangs, wear pink lipstick, and throw away the flesh-colored pantyhose (“nude pantyhose are the devil”). She even has the solution for dreaded drooping-earlobe syndrome: a few drops of the facial filler Restylane.

For hard-core information about more invasive ways to remodel your exterior, aggregates plastic surgery news from around the world, from breakthroughs (“New laser technique zaps fat without surgery”) to horror stories (“I just want the mouth God gave me”). There’s no quicker—or cheaper—way to make yourself feel satisfied with your own aging face than looking at the disastrous lengths celebrities go to keep themselves young. City Rag has an archive of increasingly freakish-looking celebrities (I promise even Methuselah looks better than Burt Reynolds or Faye Dunaway).

Doris Lessing, 89, was the winner of last year’s Nobel Prize in literature. Lessing herself is defiantly OL, with her cranky demeanor and her bun. In 1983, under the pseudonym Jane Somers, she published the novel The Diary of a Good Neighbor, the story of an unlikely friendship between a successful single London woman and her elderly neighbor, Maudie. Maudie is the kind of old person none of us wants to be: angry, confused, lonely, smelly. But the book, like its author, is fierce, unsentimental, and compelling.