News & Media

Rochester Woman Online: Navigating the Shifting Demographics

Written by Lisa E. Ireland,

President & CEO of the LSF.

Recently, a particular topic started to surface in my conversations. Many people in my social and professional circles were displaying unease about global and US population aging population trends. It could be a series of synchronicities, or perhaps it is my work that makes such conversations spark up around me. Nonetheless, it made me think of how our outlook on humanity's near future has changed in recent years. Previously, worries centered predominantly around overpopulation: a rising number of humans confronted with dwindling resources, leading to potential technological, environmental, and societal upheavals. Such a view is certainly not baseless: it took a mere 12 years for Earth's population to surge from 7 to 8 billion. However, with the growth rates steadily going down, a global concern around human overpopulation is taking the second stage to another dilemma. A different, equally disconcerting, and very real scenario has been permeating the minds of the scientific community: one where age-associated illnesses keep sidelining a big segment of humanity and burdening the economy sustained by a diminishing pool of young and healthy individuals. The focal point has shifted - it now lies in population aging, which, coupled with the lack of healthy aging, emerges as our paramount demographic issue.

This trend is painted by two pivotal factors: a significant decline in fertility rates across many regions and a rising human life expectancy. The imperative for addressing this new demographic reality is underscored best by numbers. UN data flags a surge in countries experiencing annual population decline, as their number is expected to more than double by 2050. By the same year, the share of the global population over 60 is also expected to witness a two-fold increase (relative to 2022 stats).
In their 2021 publication in Lancet Healthy Longevity, Ataguba, Bloom, and Scott underscored the escalating proportion of those over 65. In 1950, the global population below 15 years old outweighed those above 65 by a factor of seven; however, projections for 2050 anticipate these two demographics reaching equilibrium. Another prediction identifies 2073 as an important milestone, marking the point when the population aged 65+ surpasses the number of those aged below 15 years old for the first time. The impending "silver tsunami" looms large, demanding our attention toward the health concerns accompanying our aging journey.

We need to be realistic about the economic impact longer lives and declining birth rates produce. The observations of Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov, a renowned biotech and longevity researcher and a member of our Scientific Advisory Board, can help us navigate the intricacies of the issue. As of 2023, the US, a cornerstone of the world economy, shoulders a national debt exceeding 32 trillion USD. This figure stood at 15.5 trillion dollars in 2012. A substantial portion of this increase can be attributed to extended life expectancy - those of us beyond 65 normally draw on social security, medicare, and Medicaid, without contributing to the economy at the same magnitude as our younger counterparts. The trajectory points to the US national debt crossing the 40 trillion threshold by 2025, thus "urging us to increase productive longevity," as Dr. Zhavoronkov puts it.

But why such strain on healthcare? The increase in people falling in the 60+ category invariably ushers in a surge of age-related ailments, from Alzheimer's to atherosclerosis and glaucoma. Elevated life expectancy did not go hand in hand with elevated levels of healthy longevity, instead creating a large cohort of aged patients grappling with one or more chronic conditions. Currently, the majority of our older compatriots bear the weight of at least one chronic illness, and nearly half of all elders in the US grapple with two or more. It is easy to see how the treatment of these diseases is putting growing pressure on the American healthcare system.


Our remedy lies in extending healthspan (i.e., "adding life to our years") and, consequently, productive longevity. This approach ensures we age gracefully and remain unburdened by the hardships of age-related illnesses.
Achieving long and healthy lives will require us to rethink the way our health providers operate. While modern medicine boasts remarkable achievements, it also exposes a critical flaw: its inclination toward repairing and reversing ailments triggered by biological aging rather than prioritizing prediction and early intervention. This is where the field of longevity medicine comes into play. Spearheaded by trailblazers such as Dr. Evelyne Bischof, Dr. Andrea Maier, and Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov, members of the Longevity Science Foundation's Scientific Board, this methodology introduces powerful diagnostic tools and an AI-driven approach, igniting a new paradigm in healthcare. This transformation will shift us from reactive treatments to personalized care, proactive prevention, and prediction.

Dr. Zhavoronkov develops this argument a step further and reasons that contemporary medicine fights consequences, or rather, symptoms of what appears to be a larger problem - biological aging itself. Alex is among many who call for biological aging to be classified as a disease, urging us to direct our attention towards solving the very mechanisms that bring about loss of function and compromise homeostasis. While such a prospect may seem distant, each one of us can already adopt a similar perspective and start addressing our biological aging - the fundamental trigger of all aging-associated pathologies - with a healthy lifestyle and regular diagnostics.

Another element that may change the future healthcare landscape is the introduction of new therapies and interventions. The horizon holds promise for geroprotectors - one of the fruits of longevity research. However, cautious discernment is imperative when it comes to personal choices. Instances of people engaging in self-administration of gero-suppressants without proper guidance or genuine need are not uncommon. More often than not, such self-medication yields counterproductive results, even causing individuals to inadvertently elevate their biological age instead of diminishing it. Stay diligent and consult your physician before embracing novel substances.
Tackling issues as complex as biological aging takes a tremendous amount of effort. We are privileged to have a community of like-minded enthusiasts who understand the implications of global population aging. Our peers worldwide work hard to empower us with the possibility of aging gracefully, free of crippling illness. Longevity scientists put their efforts into bringing new therapies, interventions, and diagnostics out of the laboratories and into the real world.

Scientific exploration is the backbone of all innovation. Some of the most incredible discoveries happen at the level of fundamental research. However, many of the luminaries conducting said research struggle to acquire non-dilutive, early-stage funds and are, therefore, unable to transform their findings into real-world applications. We invite you to support their work with the Longevity Science Foundation. Together, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from the pain of age-related ailments and grant us a chance of staying productive, healthy, and strong.

Access the full RWO August/September 2023 edition here.
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