What if the human life span keeps increasing?

by Rebecca Briant, Student and Receptionist, London, UK

The average life expectancy of humans is increasing at an unprecedented rate. Seen as one of the great achievements of the century, in the last 40 years alone it has risen by 10 years, and in 2011 life expectancy at birth was almost double what it was in 1841(1). But what will happen if our life span continues to increase, and how can we address the issues we will face?

As most people know, with age there comes a natural deterioration of the body. However, what we are already witnessing, and will see more of should trends continue to increase, is an unmanageable presence of chronic, multi-symptomatic conditions in our elderly and increasingly in younger people, which create a huge economic strain on the NHS. The annual cost of health and social care is far higher for elderly people, with more than two-fifths of the national health budget in the UK devoted to people over 65(2) and the number of older people in need of care is projected to rise by more than 60% in the next 20 years(3).

This strain will not be limited to the NHS alone, but will reach into wider society. In the UK the ratio of people of working age to people over 65 could fall from 3.7:1 in 1999 to 2.1:1 in 2040. This has the potential to drive up taxes for those in work, to be able to fund the increasing health and social care spending on the older population(4). There are also the implications on the wider health and social care systems to find long term care for the patients once they are discharged.

Dementia takes a toll

Taking just one illness as an example, dementia is one of the leading causes of disability in later life, with approximately 850,000 people estimated to have dementia in UK by 2015.(5) This is enough people to fill the Wembley stadium ten times over and this number is set to rise to 2,092,945 by 2051- this is more than the entire populations of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham put together.

A UK study has estimated that the health and social care costs for dementia almost match the combined costs of cancer, heart disease and stroke(6) but the impact of dementia is more than simply financial. Dementia along with so many of the other illnesses and diseases carries a human toll, not only at the point of death of the ones suffering, but in their reduced quality of life and the distress caused to family and friends, and even to the carers and medical staff.

If these statistics show us the state of society as it is today, then if the trends continue as they are forecast to do, we are looking at a future where this one disease alone could bring the NHS to its knees.

What can we do?

So what can be done to make real and lasting change, preventing the mass deterioration of our elderly rather than simply trying to manage it?

Our focus on a healthy and successful life being one with an ever-increasing life span needs a shift instead to the quality of life lived – not just physical health but the wellbeing of the population. Much of the current burden on the NHS’s time and funds comes from illness and disease that result from life style choices and these health problems only become worse and more complicated in older years.

Research is showing us that around 90-95% of cancers have their root cause in environment and lifestyle, such as diet, stress, smoking etc.(7) Obesity is another major health concern, which is largely preventable, and is a massive risk factor for many other health issues.

This type of research is the starting point for change, where we begin to see that the lifestyle choices of our youth become the quality of life we experience in our elder years.

How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old.

What if by focusing and in some cases vilifying the older generation for their state of ill health, we are missing the key to how to begin to turn the tides on these trends? We cannot solely focus on the older population to solve the issues it faces, we have to involve people of all ages, so that instead of striving for longer life, we foster greater awareness and responsibility for our individual health with the knowing that we will all one day grow old. This will make way for a future where prevention of many illnesses and diseases is in our hands, not because of new technology, medical intervention or the length of our lives, but because of the way we choose to live them. It is an inevitable fact of life that we will all grow older and yet we like to live as if we will be young forever – in the end we see that our choices of lifestyle catch up with us, and at that point the ripple effects are significant.

We can also look at the way we as a society now treat and care for our elderly. No longer do they remain within the family home, they are increasingly living in care homes or on their own. This is not only an added strain on the health care system to find the carers to attend to their needs, but also separates the elderly from society, often causing loneliness and social isolation which in itself, because of the social nature of humans and our need to connect and interact, can be a precursor to disease.

Some homes have already begun to experiment with ways to bring society and the elderly back together, with one home in Finland giving cheaper rent to young people in the city, in return for a few hours a week spent with the residents(8). There are also communal living projects, where groups of older people can group together in purpose built accommodation, developing a community and maintaining independence. Another home in Seattle is combined with a Nursery, bringing the youngest and oldest generations together. (9) Our older generation has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share and we in turn have a duty of care to them, to provide dignity, love, connection, care and respect up until their last breath.

If we begin to tackle these issues from all sides then we can stop these statistics from escalating further. By making changes in the way the whole population approaches lifestyle choices, we can improve overall health with the understanding that it will produce generations who age, with the potential to have less propensity for such large volumes of complex illness and disease.

Just as we all want our children to grow up to have successful careers and relationships, would we not equally want them to grow up and have a respectful, active and joyful old age?

Our entire social perspective of ageing needs a seismic shift away from the current state of denial we have at the idea of ageing, seen in the constant anti-ageing commercials and setting to one side of older people in society, with a very direct focus on youth with little consideration or responsibility taken for the inevitable latter years of our lives. All these things contribute to the issues we face, and it is in starting these conversations that together as a collective society we can begin to age with far more grace and in turn, create far more space for the health and social care system to regain balance, with responsibility for the way we choose to live, each and every one us, at the foundation of what we build from here.

 

References:

  1. http://visual.ons.gov.uk/how-has-life-expectancy-changed-over-time/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/01/ageing-britain-two-fifths-nhs-budget-spent-over-65s
  3. https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/time-to-think-differently/trends/demography/ageing-population
  4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/395143.stm
  5. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/statistics
  6. https://www.alz.co.uk/research/WorldAlzheimerReport2015.pdf
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515569/
  8. http://edition.cnn.com/2016/01/21/europe/helsinki-seniors-home-oman-muotoinen-koti/
  9. http://metro.co.uk/2015/06/23/this-nursery-in-an-old-peoples-home-is-everything-thats-right-with-the-world-5261086/

Read more:

  1. Why does humanity have dementia? 
  2. Dementia – what is really going on? 
  3. Dementia – is it truly a mystery? 

680 thoughts on “What if the human life span keeps increasing?

  1. We had a dog that was 24, and the last few years its life was being prolonged by drugs. It had gotten to the point where the drugs stopped working, and there was no quality of life and had to put her to sleep. Are we not doing the same with ourselves? We live in a vessel that is not built to last forever. But, as Mr Burns on the Simpsons often remarks; with enough money and modern medicine, you can live forever. How far from the truth is that statement? But what is the quality of that extended life?

    1. Great points here Steve – it is important to have the quality of life that supports us, and at the same time also honoring the process of ageing, illness and disease as this too play a role in discarding and clearing the choices we have previously made that were not so supportive – there is a blessing in illness and disease and allowing it to take its course, whilst always ensuring that we are supported lovingly through this amazing process – this is the quality that you are talking about!

  2. I remember when I was paranoid about dying and wanting to make sure I could “live forever” thinking there has to be something more. To me knowing that not only re-incarnation is part of life but also ultimately there is so much more, it takes away that drive to live forever, in the way I used to see it, and instead focus on the quality of life and in that enjoy each moment knowing the difference I can make in the world.

  3. We do have a modern day plague going on with all the illness and disease and will this have to get worse or even wipe a lot of us out until we realise that with the right lifestyle choices and by staying active we can not only stay healthy to a ripe old age we don’t have to be a burden and can even keep on contributing.

    1. Yes this is a paradox. We “have a modern day plague going on with all the illness and disease” but at the same time we are all living longer due to the amount of medication on offer. This doesn’t bode well for quality of life, yet we seem to still champion living longer no matter what.

  4. The aging body will have its ailments as we discard that which no longer serves us and also clear that which we have perhaps unnecessarily taken on board. This not only happens as we get old, but is happening at earlier and earlier stages and ages. But in this process how important is it that we take full responsibility for our choices and actions and allow the body to do what it does. And by taking responsibility, we are then not burdening others with that which is rightly ours to deal with. And in this process we are not alone either as we are supported, so long as we are there to work as a team – and this is the blessing in itself too!

  5. Dementia is happening at earlier and earlier ages, which is, I feel, a reflection of how most of us in society are living. How important is it that we use such examples and statistics to revise the quality with which we live, so that we can make the changes that allow us to have a life lived in fullness rather than have a life lived half-full only?

  6. Our marker of health and our definition of health are on a sliding scale, with a downward spiral. If we continue with this trend, we will easily lose sight of what our natural and innate vitality really is – and on some level this has already happened – and then we are lost, until such time that some who lives truthfully and with the natural spark can remind us of what once was. Children are very good at this reflection of vitality, and so it is good to question and to ask what is it that then dulls this innate and inbuilt natural source of energy, that leads to a society so sorely in need of rehabilitation?

  7. In honour of ageing and the remarkable qualities I have let myself access as I have got older, I really enjoy this opportunity to have this discussion. Once feared and now embraced, it is impossible for me not to appreciate the changes in my relationship with ageing since meeting and working with Serge Benhayon.

  8. In the US the life expectancy has actually been shrinking for the last two years – it stayed the same for women but dropped by 0.2 years for men, so 0.1 overall. Something similar is happening in the UK though not in many other countries yet, but perhaps the rise in life expectancy may pause in the near future.

  9. Your awesome blog Rebecca, reflects very clearly our need to start to take responsibility for the life choices and ways of being we are choosing that are causing such alarming statistics on Dementia. This is a much needed topic of conversation for us all to be informed of what can cause Dementia so that we can take the responsible steps needed to not become a part of the statistics.

  10. Our extended ageing seems to just be highlighting that it’s the lifestyle choices that really count. Bagging 9 out of the top 10 spots for popular diseases it’s the likes of diabetes, obesity, smoking, alcohol related diseases that are making the headlines. Will we learn, or will we continue to pile on the pressure to the NHS saying you sort it out and take no responsibility ourselves?

  11. “It is an inevitable fact of life that we will all grow older and yet we like to live as if we will be young forever – in the end we see that our choices of lifestyle catch up with us, and at that point the ripple effects are significant.” So what if we were to live our lives from a young age, knowing that the choices we made about the care we took of ourselves were going to have the same level of significance on our bodies, but in a postive way rather than a negative one? Perhaps this would inspire us to change the way we live consistently throughout our lives and to not be forced to make changes as a result of an illness or disease because we have to.

  12. Approaching old age with joy and vitality has not been something that most elderly people can relate to but it is possible. I know for myself I am enjoying my elder years and have more vitality than I did in my 50’s. We see retirement as the goal for our later years but it can be so easy to vegetate and let ourselves go, we are not built to have sedentary lives our purpose in life is to serve until our last breath.

  13. While statistically our health has improved from the perspective of measuring length of life and communicable diseases that killed many in the past. But we are developing many other, more complex and equally damaging illnesses from our very way of life, which needs to be fully acknowledged

  14. This truth becomes obvious as we age “How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old”. The earlier we wake up to the responsibility of looking after our bodies, the better; but it is never too late to change how we live.

  15. How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old. Life becomes so meaningful and full of purpose and beauty when we live it purposefully right from the beginning through to our graceful end.

  16. Every time I have spoken to someone that works in age care about how we are getting older/living longer, they generally comment on how a Iot of elderly just want to pass over, but their family keeps wanting them to hang on, even though it is a major strain on the family and the person in question.

  17. The problem is not that we become older but more so in the way in which we become older. We have a choice, to look at it now or to wait until that time that we will be forced to look at it because of the bankruptcy our national health systems will be faced with due to the increasing cost and the fewer people that can pay for the system.

  18. “How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old.” If we have for example not taken responsibility for our health when we were younger then that shows up as we age.

  19. It is true that we need to look at our lifestyles to combat the increasing numbers of illness and disease both physical and mental that our societies are facing. We have for the past decades lived a life of seeming luxury where we could do what we wanted no matter the toll it would take on us as for much we could rely on our medical abilities and health care systems to take care of it. Having an increase in medical ability seems to have led to a decrease in self responsibility. We are now facing the price we are paying for this and the only way to turn the tide is to increase our awareness of what our lifestyle choices are doing to us.

  20. When we start to look at changing the way we live to make our life our medicine instead of our poison it is not only what we do that is important but much more the quality in which we do it – for this we need to look being the physical and functional aspects of life and make life about energy first and foremost.

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