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? 

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

  1. We really have to question if length of life is what needs to be championed or if its quality of life. If we are living longer, but getting sicker then are we better off? The other issues I see with many older people is a withdrawal from life, wanting to stay safe in old patterns. We are not designed to live this way in stagnation and contraction and our bodies and quality of life have to suffer.

  2. I was interested to read what the word healing has now come to be accepted as in modern dictionaries – alleviating, palliating, easing, helping, softening, lessening, mitigating, attenuating, allaying – none of these words feels right and all are a dilution from the truth. Healing is removing the root cause and this is always energetic, since everything is energy. Alleviating symptoms etc on its own is never healing.

  3. Every milli-second of life is precious and contributes to our experience old age. We’re ageing all the time and there’s no difference between young, middle and later years when we have the awareness of our multi-dimensional and not just human selves.

  4. We have to stop compartmentalising illnesses. Dementia, for example, cannot be considered separately from the causes of other chronic ill-health conditions: disregard of self, self abusive lifestyle choices, dis-connection from self and life. Research studies now link dementia to cardio-vascular disease, hypertension, obesity, smoking and lack of physical exercise. The quality of life lived is a key determinant of chronic ill-health conditions
    https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/risk-factors-vascular-dementia

  5. The statistics are terrifying… like watching a train crash about to happen, knowing its going to happen, and amazed that the drivers of the train (whether that be all of us, or those in Government) don’t seem to be adjusting the controls to prevent the crash. When will we act?

    1. How we can ignore the statistics is mind boggling. Obesity is fast growing but even those suffering from it don’t appear to wish to see how it is affecting them and eventually all of society. Why do we all including government turn a blind eye to what is happening to the world health of mankind?

  6. Yes there is no real equality in how we view people when it comes to age. I remember working on a program once where we asked members of the community to keep something in their back yards for research purposes. After some time this was no longer needed and when I rang one elder woman she was a bit sad as she felt that she was somehow contributing to her community by doing this. And yes whilst that was true, I felt sad that some of our elders feel so un-welcome by society and so unable to contribute that participating in research is their only way.

  7. We pull at every strand of life until we are forced to admit our whole reason for being here is quality. Living 1000 years has no advancement if there’s no love in there.

  8. The responsibility that we human beings are asked to live in is totally being avoided. What if we only had medicine for the necessities and that it was up to us to live a life that meant truly loving and honouring ourselves. That each choice we made supported us to be healthy, vital and joyful or they are choices that leave us to rely on a health system and blame them when things don’t go to plan. We seriously need to address the issue currently as it stands or as the health systems are showing us there won’t be any, as they are on brink of collapsing.

  9. It makes sense that the quality of how we live our life while we are young has a direct effect on the quality of our health and well-being as we get older and that taking care of ourselves and our well-being is part of our responsibility and foundation of life and our contribution to society as a whole.

  10. Spending a few hours a week visiting a rest home is a real eye opener as to the lives that so many of our aged population are living. In fact, in general they are not truly living, but simply existing. From what I observe I can see that our care of the aged needs an urgent overhaul. But that is still only a band-aid. The quality of our elder years needs to start with true education in our very early years.

  11. I love this idea of connecting children and younger people with older members of the community! We can learn so much about life, people, relationships, history and so many other things simply through engaging in conversations with people, and young people today seem to be spending more and more time online rather than out in the world making these connections.

  12. Let’s observe our elderly now so that we have the opportunity to make different choices, choices that lead us to a settlement in our final days.

  13. We are always living the consequences of our own choices and there is no escaping that. If we want to guarantee the quality of what we are to live in our future, no point wishing/hoping/planning, just start living that quality now.

  14. As the physical body is inevitably going to age, it does not mean that we have to deteriorate inside it too. Our inner connection can grow and expand as we attach less to the physical. For sure we get the body we have lived in our younger years, but there are always changes we can make to our inner being.

  15. It is true that the healthcare systems are trying to organise themselves in to a more far reaching community based service so that hospital beds are free for whoever will need them next. But the constant turnover of patients that are becoming more complicated and multi symptomatic is creating a huge strain on the local services that are generally understaffed and underfunded. So, people are often being passed from one service to the other, in a constant chain of referrals, which only adds to the sense of stress and complexity of their situation. The reality is though, that there is no clear cut solution to this ever increasing population dilemma. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got, even in the face of potentially collapsing healthcare systems we continue to turn up to work and to give the best care that we can.

  16. I now see so many people around me who, having taken full responsibility for their lives, are truly showing what it is like to age gracefully. There are now some amazing role models amongst us.

  17. To a large extent we have looked at our elderly populations as a burden, rather than a blessing for the great wisdom they have to share with younger generations. Perhaps this happens because it is easier to blame them for having to take care of them as they age and become sick, rather than seeing how we care for ourselves now will determine how healthy WE are in the future as the elderly population ourselves.

  18. It also begs to consider that walking away from who we truly are and feeling life when we are young influences us when we are older.

  19. It is strange the disregard we can all choose to live in, in the ignorance that “it won’t happen to us” when the stats are all around us proving otherwise. I remember clearly living my life with cigarettes and alcohol being an absolute. I knew they were bad for me, particularly cigarettes – I sold inhalers for COPD, so had an acute understanding of what would happen to me if I continued, but I can quite honestly say that made no difference to me what so ever! I was even realistic about the fact that I would never have a baby as the thought of not drinking or smoking for nine months terrified me. And that was because I genuinely thought I needed those things to cope with my life. I hadn’t learnt to deal with my feelings by that point and so was continuously overwhelmed with them and so smoking and drinking were how I numbed myself to all that to get through my days.

    Luckily I now know different and have easily managed to stopped smoking and drinking and feel great as a result, but it was only once I actually started to experience the early signs of COPD that I managed to stop, because I could feel it was happening to me. So I do understand how many people choose the thing that’s going to give them a really low quality of life/slow death over being overwhelmed by something they don’t know what to do with. It’s a shame there isn’t a class on the national curriculum entitled “feelings” where everyone got supported with this from a young age. Something I consider essential to my role in life is to be open about how I feel, to show anyone and everyone that it’s ok to drop the stiff upper lip, a way that is especially adopted in the UK.

  20. Working as an Aged Care worker I’ve seen a lot of what you’ve highlighted Rebecca. Not just in the elderly but across the board. There’s a lot of advice about making healthy lifestyle choices but these unhealthy choices are the more extreme versions of choices we don’t want to feel and be aware of having made and expressed on the energetic level. Only Universal Medicine has brought this aspect of healthy living choices to the table that make it far more sustainable and practical that I have experienced thus far.

  21. The life style choices we choose when we are younger definitely shape our future the problem is when we are young we feel invincible and it is not until later on we wish we had made better choices earlier on, the key is to understand about choices and take responsibility for them.

    1. And educate our kids, not just with knowledge from books, but to include an energetic understanding of themselves, their world… through lived examples ie the responsibility we have to live that way alongside them.

  22. How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old. This is so true as the Aged Care Facilities are full of our older generation that are struggling with the end of their life physically and mentally because of lack of this basic choice to honour and respect their bodies and make loving life choices. They have been caught up in their era’s ideals or beliefs from war and life’s hardships and basically been in survival mode to get through.

  23. ‘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.” Great to see this in print Rebecca. The elderly are so discarded in this day and age and there are so many profiteering from false ways of keeping us young from plastic surgery to expensive youth enhancing lotions and potions and all this just as a veneer and disregarding the beautiful soul that has so much to share and give back if only given the chance. It is definitely the true quality of life that we have turned our back on but that the elderly may well have a greater handle on underneath all those wrinkles. Let us help them reconnect and as we honour them bring quality back into all our lives.

  24. The management and care of people who have dementia is fast becoming a major part of life in Britain, with hospital and community workers and families all having to pull together to support these extremely vulnerable adults. There is special training available and charitable organisations who can offer support and training as well. And this is all fantastic, but it feels to me like we are all working to manage the tide of dementia that is sweeping across our elders, which is exhausting and brings up so much fear because then we see our younger generations, spaced out on computer games and high sugar diets and there is a great anxiousness about what will become of them too, raising questions about how will we all care for each other.

  25. It makes sense that if we hold on to the false belief that all we have is this one life that we will try and make it last for as long as we can. But if we embrace the fact that we will return again and again, quality of life may be chosen over quantity.

  26. Is it possible we try to expand our life span at all cost simply to avoid dealing with what we have lived and left behind at the end of it? When we die we will get to see what choices we made and what impact they had on everything. We are reminded that we are more then just a human being and in this reminder the span of our responsibility gets more visible.

  27. Living in the falsities that we are doing better than previous generations because we are living longer is an absolute illusion that many have fallen for. For if the quality of life is disconnected to who we truly are then each step we have taken is away from our origins. I know i would much rather have life lived with this quality, connected to my inner essence, the origins of who I am and have a life lived for its purpose as to how it currently is a life lived that is of survival and function.

  28. 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.

    1. A group of us this morning were talking about when we make simple moves in life about function and forget the quality, how it halts a flow – we in effect invest more in the habit of function than the energetic quality we are doing it in. Each leads to a very different experience in the body and over time a very different state of health and well-being.

      1. this is so true Rosanna, I have experienced both and can say that when I am focussed on function my quality drops and my body suffers the anxiety, hardening, abruptness and drive that comes with. Yet when I focus on the quality that which needs to be done is done with ease and flow without and strain on the body. In fact in the latter the body is left to in it’s natural quality.

    2. Super important to remember that it is in fact – though often dismissed because it is not the usual reality, that ease and flow are natural qualities to the body.

  29. 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.

  30. “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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

    1. Thank you Toni, this is a fantastic comment. It raises lots of questions about love and attachment. I suppose it is important to be understanding of how scary it is to let someone go, especially when you know you will never see them again. But this is where perhaps our culture lets us down, as there could be so much more dialogue about death and passing over and the other dimensions of life, so that we are prepared right from young to be able to accept the changing cycles of life.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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

    1. I work with the elderly, and the number of different medications they have to take for different illnesses is mindblowing. Sometimes I wonder if the tablets are compatible and how is the body really coping with all of the medicines.

  36. 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.

  37. “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.

  38. 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?

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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?

  43. 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?

  44. 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!

  45. 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.

    2. A great point you raise here Kev, that by changing the way we think about what it means to get older, and to make different choices about the way we live, we do not have to give up on ourselves, but quite the opposite. We can continue to live a vibrant and healthy life, stay engaged in the world without having to depend on others, and remain very much a valued and respected part of society.

    3. Could it be one of the greatest diseases is, comfort? The backbreaking work that was required in our past has been replaced with automation. Today, how many people have a hard day at work, slaving over a keyboard. There are still plenty of jobs that still require a hard graft. There will always be a need for the person that fixes the machine that keeps everything running! Who will be responsible for our health when the machines stop running?

  46. 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.

    1. The lie that we have all bought into is that we only have one life has given us permission to take away living responsibly and indulge in all sorts of ways. Knowing from my body (not a belief) that reincarnation is a fact and that I come back to what I leave behind has allowed for a different but much wider perspective on life, what we are here for and the bigger picture. In this sense of space, the pressure of time is factored out and so it allows for a deeper quality to be connected to which supports for a deepening foundation of living that quality.

  47. 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!

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