Would you want to live to 100?
For those of us alive today who may yet reach 100, there is another question: would we want to?
The Office for National Statistics has estimated that nearly 40 per cent of girls born this year will live to be 100, rising to 60 per cent for those born in 2060. Boys are not far behind. What we cannot know is whether, if asked, they would choose to live so long.
Jonathan Swift understood the question. Gulliver's Travels features a race of humans, the Struldbrugs, who were normal in all respects except one � they did not die. But their immortality, instead of being a blessing, was a curse, because they continued to age.
"At 90, they lose their teeth and hair; they have at that age no distinction of taste, but eat and drink whatever they can get, without relish or appetite. The diseases they were subject to still continue... the question therefore was not, whether a man would choose to be always in the prime of youth, attended with prosperity and health; but how he would pass a perpetual life under all the usual disadvantages which old age brings along with it."
In a recent article, Walter James, who celebrated his 100th birthday last year, wrote movingly of the deprivations of age, not on his body or mind, but on his emotions.
Though he still shops, cooks and looks after himself, does the crossword, enjoys a glass of whisky and can recall events from his past with clarity, what he cannot recover are the feelings and sensations that accompanied the events.
Recounting his sporting successes and sexual adventures, he notes the absence of the excitement and exhilaration that went with them. "My memory has kept the bones but lost the flesh around them."
He adds: "Perhaps the greatest loss is what it is like to be in love. I can remember the routines of being in love, the shared meals, concerts and theatres, walks in the country.
"But writing all this is like taking a book down from the shelf and leafing through its pages. What escapes me is that extraordinary sense, which so many share, of being in love."
Here is a link that might be useful: Is it worth it?