What if the human life span keeps increasing?

by Rebecca, Student, 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? 

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. “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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  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. 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.

    1. The process is that I deeply appreciate what has been lived and the choices now of what is the potential to live.

  10. 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?

  11. 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?

  12. 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!

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. Gone are the days when all the generations used to live together (with exception to some) and were at hand to help each other, in whatever stage of life. It could be giving birth, raising the children or getting old and dying.

  17. I think there is much for us to learn and re-discover in the way that we live our lives and the impact that this has on our health and wellbeing, our quality of life, not just for ourselves but for all around us too.

  18. “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. ” I so agree Rebecca. Also with your point: “How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old.” We need to take care of the quality of our lives, not celebrate the quantity of years lived. What is the point of living to 100 if we live in a crippled body and a demented mind?

  19. “How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old.”
    A truth we all know, yet absolutely ignore. It is why we ignore and discard such innate wisdom that needs to be explored, discussed and addressed.

    When we have our children and want all the wonderful things in life possible for them, I for one never considered them being old, or even myself being old, so instilling in them a self care and deeply regarding way of living was not on my radar. Now though it is, something that has come with not only aging, but learning to respect and care for my own body. It is this respect for our bodies that we need to build to again reclaim our elder years and to be a valued and contributing member of society

  20. A very telling statistic and especially as dementia is only one in the very many illnesses and disabilities that become prevalent in older age – “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.” Three of the UK’s largest cities populated by those with this one illness, time to ask the very needed questions that are answered here in this article.

  21. “How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old.” I wonder how many of us in our latter years wish that we had paid more attention to this when we were younger? But then perhaps its not about telling our younger generations this fact, but living by example that would really suport them to take notice. For if we live a life that is full and vibrant that keeps us feeling young and amazing, and looking great as we approach our sixties and seventies this would surely inspire young people to want to know more and to put it into practice for themselves.

  22. How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old. This makes so much sense to me now that I am more aware and much more self responsible, but I can relate to not choosing to be responsible and living life not really caring about my body and the choices I was making in life. If we keep holding onto the false pretence of, it’s because I’m getting old, we will go further down the track of ignorance and worse ill health across the board.

  23. It makes sense to me that there has been a huge increase in the rates of dementia because who really wants to be kept alive to such an old age when their quality of life is so low due to poor health and lack of connection and care with and from others?
    Of course one’s mind would check out and look for a mental escape from such a miserable existence. If society would understand and accept the truth about reincarnation this could help the current need to keep people alive so long at the expense of their true quality of life because they could see their dying process as merely a set up and transition to the next life.
    I love the concept of combining an elderly care facility with a young children’s care center as both these groups could support each other in so many ways.

  24. We certainly need to change our way of thinking and our consciousness, for years I was part of the crowd that ate, drank, smoked, did anything we liked completely not caring or even being aware of the consequences and because there was always a crowd it seemed like a normal thing to do. Now the mates I used to hang with are all on heart pressure pills and all sorts which to them now is normal for men of our age. We need to wise up or the future does look bleak.

  25. “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.” We tend to dismiss the elderly especially after retirement age but if they are offered a purpose there is a wealth of knowledge they can bring. One such area is our schooling system where we see children that can’t cope falling behind and giving up. Bringing our elderly into the schools especially at the reading and writing stage offers a purpose to elderly knowing they are supporting the younger generation and the over stretched education system, and the children could feel supported and offered space free of the pressures of the classroom. Dementia is a giving up on life and it can start in our school years and show up as we get older so this way we get to support both ends of the spectrum.

  26. Are we really the intelligent species, with the ever increasing numbers of lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes and addiction? We may be able to manage symptoms but what is the real quality of our increased lifespan?

  27. When we are focused on increasing life span rather than the quality that we live in we are caught in maintaining security.

  28. It is interesting to consider the separation in society where being young is promoted and the elderly put aside as a lived life which is of less value. So we see this in people who are young, they are ignorant of the way they live their lives in relationship with their health but when they get older their health is the most important thing in the world and they allow the medical system to keep their bodies functioning to the bare minimum they find is still acceptable. How is it possible that we can be so distinct in all the cycles of our life? Could it be that in a way we live in disconnection, and more importantly irresponsible to who we are and from that choice bring to our families and societies?

  29. I remember growing up and reading people say that we as a race, ought to be exterminated like vermin. This, it was put forward was self evidently the only way to deal with us and our inevitable out of control population increase. This shows so poignantly how the intelligence that got us in this mess in the first place, just proposes more abuse and would effectively like to wipe us out. Reading your account here Rebecca it’s unmistakable to me that it’s not us that are the despicable ones but the energy we choose to let through. If we stop for a moment and see the devastation we’ve caused we must start to comprehend that the time for us to change is at hand and that there’s no fix in this world that will substitute and make good for us living without connection to our heart.

  30. Rebecca you have presented very sobering facts beautifully in a way that has given us all much to consider. Excellent blog thank you.

  31. If as a teen I was told ….”How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old.” I would have arrogantly thought “when we get old life is not worth living anyway, so put the pedal to the metal and enjoy the fun you can have in your body while it still works”. Arrogant, I know, but true none the less. I used to look at people above 25-30 years old and see they were sooo weighed down by life and it’s experiences they literally didn’t enjoy living unless there was alcohol involved.

    Lately I have had the absolute pleasure of living a full life at the age of 42 and due to the amazing elderly role models I have in my life, I am looking forward to that phase of my life as well. I feel if our youth had vibrant full role models in their later years this arrogance would not have as much weight.

  32. Connection is one of the cornerstones of our lived life. Quite often as we age we can become withdrawn from society partly due to the ageing process and the effect that has on our body. We can become less mobile and the more we withdraw the greater the feelings of intensity. With connection there comes an expansiveness and greater willingness to be engaged with others and the years drop away and age is no longer such an issue.

  33. “How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old.” It’s how we convey this to our younger generations, and that there is a responsibility that comes with how we live our lives that will really make a difference. Rather than ‘telling’ them perhaps we need to live by example, so that they have role models to inspire them to live all of who they are, rather than to conform to someone else’s ideals and beliefs.

  34. It is indeed encouraging to see the increasing number of initiatives appearing on the scene to create community and independence for our ageing population. It not only offers greater human dignity in our later years but may also relieve some of the burden on our health and social care systems. But most important is the recognition that responsibility for our later years is determined by the lived quality of all our preceding ones.

  35. Without a doubt, there is there so much more for us to learn about how to truly care for our bodies and what being truly responsible really means.The state of the world is the ultimate reflection of that.

  36. The statistics that you share are enough to stop everyone in their tracks and ask – why is this happening and what can we do? – but unfortunately the majority of humanity are in a “state of denial”. They simply don’t know what to do so they leave the job of sorting it out to the professionals who are probably just as confused. Meanwhile we actually have the answer in our own hands; to begin to take loving care of ourselves and full responsibility for our lives. Yes, to change the world we need to start with us first.

  37. How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old. This is so true and makes so much sense. If we make healthy and true choices for ourselves as best as we can through our lives, when we grow older we will have a foundation of our own loving support with us and not have a need to check out to not feel our past choices.

  38. The denial of ageing and of death in society is preventing us from seeing the beauty in both of these experiences.

  39. Longevity is not the marker for a successful life and until we stop trying to keep people alive at all cost and focus on the quality in which we live our lives (which is down to us) we will continue to see death as something to be avoided for as long as possible at the expense of all else.

  40. This is a beautiful thought provoking sharing Rebecca. You express the need for us to value and love our elderly. Respecting and appreciating what they have to offer including their wisdom. Young or old we all have something to offer each other.

  41. I was talking with a 94year old woman today who was being kept alive by weekly injections for the last few years. She told me that she had decided it was time to stop the injections, that her quality of life was diminishing and that she felt it was time to go. I loved her attitude, she said she was ready, she had spoken to her family and she felt she had about 3 weeks to go max. She was very much at ease with her decision. I look forward to spending more time with her before she passes over.

  42. I can see a main reason elderly are no longer being looked after by family in their later years is due to the fact our elderly generally require a lot of support and most families have both the parents/adults in full-time work and do not have the capacity to offer the support that is required…..

  43. Health services are trapped in a way of thinking about health, wellbeing, illness and disease that has no sustainable future. This will become clear as the resources to sustain them will be under a very severe strain and their capacity to save lives will dramatically diminish as the result of the way the people choose to live.

  44. ” 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 ” I like this idea and it’s also educational in that it may inspire young people to make wiser choices in their youth.

  45. A seismic shift indeed is needed in our perception of aging. Heck I can remember feeling the fear of getting through my twenties and nearing my thirties and thinking time is really starting to limit itself! This is indeed not a healthy attitude and one that reduces the overall enjoyment of life at all ages.

  46. Living longer but living well is the challenge of our times. If we care for ourselves now we may be able to stay engaged in work longer and engaged in our communities more.

    1. Exactly Jenny I always wanted to life forever, yet now what I treasure most is the quality that my life will be now and in the future.

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