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Immortal Dreams

Each night our life expectancy has grown by five hours since we last went to bed. How long can this improvement continue? And is a long life a happy life? Raymond Tallis explores.

Each night when we retire to bed our life expectancy has grown by five hours since we last turned in. This extraordinary growth in our longevity has continued for over two centuries, thanks to improving better social conditions and science and medicine. But is an ever longer life necessarily a good thing? In his travels to Laputa, Swift's Gulliver discovered that the immortal Struldbrugs were cursed by perpetual infirmity and were shunned and pitied in equal measure by their mortal compatriots. At the end of his opera The Makropoulos Case, Janacek's eponymous heroine chooses death over the elixir of life, having long since tasted and forgotten every joy in her 337 year existence. As modern medical science increasingly struggles to cope with dementia and debility in our ageing population, gerontologist Professor Raymond Tallis asks how far we can we can extend our lifespan, and whether our healthspan matches it, and whether the added years will be as fulfilling as our youth.

Producer: Roland Pease.

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45 minutes

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