Longevity Myths Debunked: Will Life Extension Compound Problems of an Aging Society?
More time spent living beyond age 65+ does not necessarily mean more time being “old”
As human longevity technology gives people added decades of active life, what we see as modern detriments to old age might also grow in scope
There are at least ten widely accepted problem areas that members of our older population face, generally from the time of retirement onward:
Financial stability — Pensions and social security payments combined with savings and investments have given many of the Baby Boomer generation fairly secure retirements, but successive generations are fairing less well on preparing for retirement. Social Security is projected to only last in its current state until 2037, after which it will be reduced significantly or need an increase in funding sources.
Physical mobility — The human body’s ability to repair and recover lowers greatly beginning in early middle age. Muscles weaken, bones lose density, and many joints enter a pre-arthritic state.
Loss of friends and family — For most people, by the time retirement age is reached the majority of one’s senior relatives have died. This is also the time when friends and other relatives closer in age will begin to suffer ailments and deaths at a rapidly increasing pace.
Caregiving — Whether it is caring for an ill loved one or spouse, or being the subject of such care, this becomes a harsh reality in the last decades of life.
Community engagement — From one’s thirties through fifties, adults find themselves actively taking part in society outside of just work, from volunteering with charities to coaching kids’ sports or being part of a school PTO. Many such opportunities dwindle as parents become empty nesters or health and aging issues curtail what someone can do.
Lifestyle degradation — Many older people must make do with less income than they had been accustomed to as they enter retirement.
Medical care — As age increases, so does the regularity and severity of required medical care. Additional problems arising from this include the need for transportation to and from appointments and procedures.
Life purpose — Careers and raising families often provide a strong sense of purpose for most people, and these both are often absent in post-retirement.
Brain health — A wide array of ailments not only affects the body but also the mind, from Alzheimer’s disease to strokes to dementia.
Mental health and apprehension of end-of-life — With advancing age comes increasing reassessment of one’s life as well as the existential dread of approaching death.
Most of the preceding negatives that affect older adults are inevitable and unavoidable to a large degree. No matter how diligent someone is in their approach to health and wellness, physical detriments and psychological effects will build up as age advances.
Larger aging populations would not only mean more people experiencing all of those factors, but also the possible introduction of new negative factors into the mix:
- Political conflict is driven by conservative and religious concern over changes in traditional family units
- The shrinking of the number of working-age adults, known as the increase in the dependency ratio (more retired adults relying on fewer working adults).
- Shifts in the economy’s make-up: Business verticals that thrive on older adults become key economic drivers while those who rely on younger populations become depressed.
- Further increases in healthcare costs, driven by both the increased dependency ratio and economic changes.
- Overpopulation might become an even greater concern as third-world nations continue to experience high birth rates while developed nations experience much lower mortality rates.
- Growing inequality between rich and poor: The rich would be able to continue growing fortunes and hoarding wealth for centuries as opposed to mere decades.
But this is where the true goals of human longevity research are often confused with what many people believe. The push for life extension is not just about finding treatments and therapies that will make humans live longer. Arguably the most important aspect of this work is to give people more years that are free from the ravages of aging. This concept has come to be known as “healthspan”, and coexists with “lifespan” as the two sides of the longevity coin.
“…lifespan is a side-effect of healthspan. You’ve got to stay healthy to stay alive, and health is the major contributor to quality of life.”
-Aubrey de Grey, cofounder of SENS Research Foundation and Chief Longevity Advisor for SP8CEVC
The ultimate realization of human longevity will only be complete when both lifespan and health span are increased substantially. Simply raising the average lifespan of people to hit 100 (or higher) will not do. Longevity researchers want to make sure additional years of life are enjoyable, productive years in which people can continue to do whatever drives them and gives them fulfillment and happiness.
In essence, the threshold between middle age and old age will be raised. People will gain decades of active years during which they will continue to work, spend money, and drive the economy. This new generation — the first with radically enhanced health span and lifespan — might actually usher in a new age of prosperity that has never before been experienced. Imagine the results if the likes of Albert Einstein, Dorothy Hodgkin, Stephen Hawking, Mary Somerville, Michelangelo, Nikola Tesla, and Isaac Newton could each live the equivalent productive years of two modern lifetimes!
The vast majority of longevity researchers realize that increased lifespans will only be a boon to society if those extra years are healthy ones. Based on recent discoveries over the past few decades, and the advances in a biotech tool such as CRISPR, many believe it is only a matter of time before significant boosts in longevity become a new norm. With the support of institutional and private investment — including new venture capital funds like SP8CEVC (which invests in space and human longevity tech startups) — , we can do our part to help humanity reach this next level.