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. Rebecca you have highlighted some concerning facts about where human beings are going to. If we really look at this, this is the equivalent of a community being wiped out by man made, even if it involves nature, to wipe humans out. We need to consider why these illnesses or disasters occur to take human lives.

    We as humans still have much to learn and living with in society is one of them. I loved reading about communities coming together. It felt so (I can’t think of the appropriate word to describe how it felt) but, kind of felt the natural thing to be around and here for one another, instead of living in our bubbles. It’s about time this way of living commenced and hope that more of these communities will grow to serve one another.

  2. It is concerning that we see our life expectancy increasing ‘as one of the great achievements of the century’ when in actual fact if we take a look at the state of the world and what is going on, we may be living longer but it is actually getting far far worse. For how can we celebrate living longer when our children are self harming?

    1. Vicky there is nothing exciting to celebrate about living longer if you’re held a prisoner in your own body. And euthanasia is not the answer too. Abuse is around us all the time, it doesn’t always have to look bad either. I often observe babies/children from a very young age being exposed to electronic devices to distract them, as parents aren’t coping or equipped to what is being asked of them. And that is not criticising the parents either as many of them know no different either. Somewhere along the way someone has to break the cycle, is it going to be you?

  3. In doing some research the other day for a workshop I read that the millennial children are becoming more forgetful than our old age pensioners! Predominantly this was through gaming!!! There is so much to discuss with that you have brought here in 1. what is the quality of our life if we are living longer? 2. What is the quality of life for everyone?and if we want to ‘hold off’ age then what are we not accepting or appreciating in both ourselves and others.

  4. Working in social care one thing I see a lot is that people can’t care for their relatives because of their own multiple conditions or life situations themselves. We carers often need carers themselves! Which is why it is so important that we need to learn how to look after ourselves and not restrict that notion to going to the gym and eating Rivita. But are we moving our bodies gently? are we listening to it? Taking the time to listen helps us know how to care for ourselves.

  5. It’s interesting how so many of us often behave as if we will never be old and there feels to be this notion somehow that says being mortal is something to be looked down on.

  6. “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?” We tend to isolate parts of life instead of holding it all as one, so much so that the above quote may seem quite unusual to many people. It feels very responsible though to raise children in a way that supports them to care for themselves not just for present life, but so that when they eventually move into their elder years they do so with vitality and purpose.

  7. The thing is, that if our youth are seeing a potential life of elderly years lived in pain and suffering, then I can see how this would cause a young person to want to live recklessly, as a way perhaps to have some freedom before the limits of a ‘failing’ body sets in. Not that I agree with this, but I can understand how this happens.

    1. Shami you have got a point here in what do our younger generation see when they look at society. Do they see the older generation living with vitality and joy or misery, pain and suffering? This doesn’t make for excuses we all have a role and responsibility to play here including the younger generation but these kind of honest discussions are really needed including why are we not living a life of vitality, joy and true wellbeing and what does this even mean to us.

  8. ‘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.’ This has also to do with the knowing that quality of life is essential for everyone young or old when we live without love and care, we live without connection. Living a life without connection is a life not lived.

    1. What I get from what you are saying Annelies is that we are not truly living but existing and this existence is pitiful. Surely there has to be more to life than just existing from day to day. That to me feels more like a prison sentence than actually living a vital and healthy life.

  9. They say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks but I would dispute that for it depends on the willingness and commitment of the dog and the desire to go forward and not fall back on well-worn comfortably closeting ways.

  10. Thank you Rebecca, and that understanding that it is the quality of life that is essential actually has to start all the way from childhood, from kindergarten even… Making sure that our kids are not just being processed into more intellectual fodder but are actually staying connected with themselves

    1. cjames2012 actually I have observed it is super difficult to support a child to stay connected because of the social pressures to support a child to be all of themselves. The pressure starts within the immediate family and ripples out to nursery, infant school and beyond. We are riddled with jealousy and comparison and if a child is being totally gorgeous and all of themselves which is the reflection of God they are attacked by society because it seems we do not want that reflection of God’s love because we have been denied that ourselves when we were young and is it then possible we live in the belief that we can never reconnect back to that love we see so clearly in children that brings up the jealousy?

  11. I have a feeling that the problems we are facing at the moment and near future are a result of our collective irresponsibility. It is already known for a long time that lifestyle is important, we know all these things but we keep going and going because we think we will not be affected by it but we will. As the body is the marker of all truth as Serge Benhayon has presented and in time it will show what we are doing with it. So the question becomes why are we not living what we know to be true day in day out?

  12. It’s interesting how things just do not match up these days – we are living longer, we have far more expertise, resources and knowledge and yet we are getting sicker, and we don’t like ageing and some of the behaviours we see in adults are totally immature. It feels like we just cannot accept, and are just having a major hump about anything and everything and the reality is the last thing we want to look at.

  13. I’d say that the ‘young and carefree(careless)’ attitude may be seen in our younger years but it’s not there in the joyful, caring and sensitive earlier years. I feel very young and yet I don’t disregard the fact that my choices don’t come with consequences. The live forever young attitude disregards the truth of our bodies and seeks to remain irresponsible rather than young.

  14. There was a time when the social expectations of a generation were quite simple, when we hoped for good steady jobs and an easy retirement. Good health was always there too, but somehow it seemed less important than making sure the fundamentals of life were taken care of, maybe because there was not the rates of illness and disease that we have now. Now, we hope that there will be enough care for the ageing generations, now we hope that health will not be so bad, because bad is inevitable. This does not seem to me to be a current that can keep on going, that there has to be some kind of a breaking point where the realities of life, of what life is and what it is all about are taken out in to the light and what is creating ill health on such a massive scale is finally brought to account.

  15. With those statistics on cancer does it not make sense to review and look at the way we are living life, the choices we make which will then be played out in how we feel and what the body is experiencing. I know when I have made changes to support my body, to care and nurture my body the whole quality of my life has shifted. It has been a huge confirmation that I choose my life and how I live.

  16. I absolutely agree Rebecca that “How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old” and the fact that is does simply shows how, up to now, the true education of children as to the care needed for their bodies and the responsibility they have to do so, has been sorely lacking. We can apply all the quick fix band-aids to the ill-health of the world but until we start at the beginning, when the child is young, we are never going to be able to see the change in these shocking statistics that we would all like to see.

  17. There are more and more signs that the lifespan is increasing less and for some population groups like white people in the US and to a lesser degree those living in the UK their mortality is actually rising at the moment which means their life expectancy is actually decreasing.

    1. What that says to me is that we’re killing ourselves off faster than our advances in technology can save us. That’s a pretty damning reflection when you consider how far technology has come and also just how much we now know about the effects of lifestyle choices on illness and disease. We must be pretty determined to self-harm or more accurately ruled by an energy that would have us self-harm for this to be the case otherwise we would simply choose to not do the things that stimulate illness and disease.

  18. “How we live when we are young shapes how we will be when we are old.” And as we all live in cycles, how we are living at the end of one life shapes what we will meet as we begin the next life.

  19. I agree our life span is increasing however the quality of life is missing for many, especially when dementia sets in because it affects the whole family, and the more we continue to commit to life, and interact with those younger than us the less likely we are to succumb to dementia.

  20. 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.

    1. Quite right and this means taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves and not to check out however comfortable that is in the short term.

  21. 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.

  22. 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

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. I find it ironic that we seem to want to live longer (or are we just putting off facing death?) yet, many older people don’t seem to be enjoying this later period of their lives.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

    1. So often we walk away from the truth of who we are when we’re young and then we seem to forget all about what we once knew to be true. The living memory that our body holds and never loses gets trampled under foot by the deceit of our society and becomes such a distant memory that it’s all but forgotten. But and this is something I can vouch for, it is definitely not gone, not at all. I have resurrected the truth of who I am through re-connecting to my body, the link between me and life has been reinvigorated. I am back to feeling much of what I felt as a child, which is space and love as an activity, a wordless depth of knowing that some call God.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. ‘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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. “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.

  48. 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.

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