Dramatic advances in medicine, social, and economic development have resulted in unprecedented increases in lifespan, creating both opportunities and challenges that span global boundaries. These affect everything from working patterns and retirement schedules, family structures, savings and pension systems and healthcare services – impacting all parts of society at once.
As health care improves, people are living longer lives – which is great news for their individual health and well-being, yet some worry that an aging population could hamper economic growth and put fiscal strains on governments.
One way to address these concerns is to focus on improving quality of health throughout a person’s lifespan. Research indicates that ageing is not an inexorable biological process but instead malleable; healthy lifestyle choices and supportive social environments can make a substantial difference in older adult health. Also essential is improving productivity throughout one’s lifespan via policies that enable individuals to maximize opportunities associated with longevity while mitigating risks; such strategies require taking into account multiple aspects such as education, work, housing and physical environments as part of holistic solutions.
Longer life spans bring significant transformation to global social and economic structures, from public costs to health care costs and pension obligations, family reorganizations processes, business operations and labour markets.
At the same time, however, older people’s growing population could provide opportunities for entrepreneurs and technology. Their presence could boost consumer demand, boost economies and enable people to live life to the fullest.
There is growing evidence that living longer can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, but prejudice against older people must be dismantled to avoid intergenerational conflict and foster intergenerational interactions. Education, social experimentation and intergenerational mixing must all take place together with an emphasis on healthy longevity not being something just reserved for old people – rather it should be promoted as something all people strive towards as goals in themselves and society at large.
Walking, using public transport and engaging in community activities require supportive physical and social environments that enable mobility for older people. This may include accessible buildings, transport and walking routes that are safe to access for seniors as well as lifestyle choices that facilitate greater independence.
Many countries now boast populations with adult populations exceeding 60 outnumbering children under five, which presents both challenges and opportunities for our globalized society.
Research in basic biology is showing us that aging is flexible. Nutrition, education, behavior modification, public health practices and medical practice all can have an effect on how quickly we age; instead of searching for an elixir of youth we could focus on slowing the aging process itself to lower incidence rates of diseases while improving healthy life expectancies.
As lifespans extend, the share of older individuals in global populations is growing exponentially. The rapid aging of large cohorts has raised concerns that it will slow economic growth while straining public finances due to pension, healthcare and other spending increases.
Low and middle-income countries face limited resources that necessitate prioritizing work on aging alongside other development priorities, while ageist narratives and lack of buy-in from leaders may make this area of research unimportant.
Multilateral development banks should prioritize promoting healthy longevity agendas through their work, with preparation of societies for aging at the core. To be successful at this mission, collaboration among many actors including non-governmental organizations and civil society will be essential. With their help, awareness of benefits associated with healthy longevity approaches may increase dramatically and development banking institutions make this effort their top priority.
Aging is an ever-evolving system of biological, environmental, psychological and social processes. Its hallmark is gradual physiological deterioration that leads to impaired function and increased susceptibility to illness or death.
Research has demonstrated that, beyond genetic pathways and biological processes that are evolutionary conserved, the pace of aging can also be altered through nutrition, education, lifestyle habits, public health interventions, medical practice and “age malleability”. The concept has created new challenges and opportunities for society alike.
With age malleability becoming more and more apparent, it may be worthwhile moving beyond GDP as a measure of welfare to focus on healthy life expectancy instead. This would enable policies to focus on preventing disease and disability rather than treating it after its impact has already become evident.