To her credit, Ms. Armstrong doesn’t pretend that there is any one answer to the question of why we age as we do. The science she presents is a grab bag of divergent theories, each championed by a scientific subspecialty ... One comes away from Borrowed Time not only with a range of wildly varying speculations on aging but also with a sense of the politics of scientific research, with its intellectual silos, its creativity-stifling insistence on consensus, its grubby scraping for grant money.
Alzheimer’s hijacks the latter half of the book. While it is probably the disease we fear most as we age, it is not likely more related to aging than are a myriad of diseases, making its emphasis a bit at odds with the book’s objective ... Nonetheless, Armstrong admirably takes a holistic approach to Alzheimer’s, comparing mainstream interventions that largely involve therapies designed to remove plaques and tangles with more controversial strategies that involve multimodal alleviation of risk factors to prevent disease progression. Although the Alzheimer’s story is informative, one cannot help but see this in part as a missed opportunity to better define aging, which is not a set of diseases but rather a set of intrinsic biological processes that together confer systemic changes with age, making us susceptible to disease ... Armstrong lays open the pathways that govern aging and describes some of the approaches to test aging interventions in humans. However, as interest and investments in this field grow, progress in the latter area may move faster than she (or many others) expect.
Complex, nuanced and cautious, yet it suggests that we are on the brink of a revolution ... Unfortunately, every advance in ageing research, and every chapter of this book, raises hopes only to dash them. It can make it a frustrating read, as well as a fairly demanding one. Armstrong is always clear, but she does cover a great deal of genetic, biological and medical ground. She goes into a lot of detail on Alzheimer’s, in particular, running through all the risk factors, suspected genes, probable causes, and so on, before acknowledging that up to this time 'nothing is clear': we do not really know what causes Alzheimer’s, still less how it might be treated.
Armstrong illuminatingly surveys research into aging’s biological mechanisms ... she profiles a number of fascinating people, leavening the somewhat dense science with human interest, such as leading Alzheimer’s researchers Caleb Finch and Eric Davidson and their time spent collecting traditional music from Appalachia for the Library of Congress ... Without suggesting death can actually be stopped, Armstrong’s work shows that quality of life before the inevitable might very well be significantly improved.