Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


The Future of the Aging Society: Burden or Human Capital?

(Please note that this is my per­son­al take at the dis­cus­sions that took place in Dubai as part of the Glob­al Agen­da Coun­cil on the Chal­lenges of Geron­tol­ogy put togeth­er by the World Eco­nom­ic Forum, and builds on the work of my col­leagues, but it does not rep­re­sent a for­mal doc­u­ment or state­ment of posi­tion. Sim­ply put, we would like to engage your brain in defin­ing the chal­lenges and outlining/ exe­cut­ing the solu­tions).

Con­text: The Chal­lenges of the Aging Soci­ety

The world is aging. This is occur­ring in two ways: through shifts in the age struc­ture that will even­tu­al­ly lead to many more peo­ple reach­ing old­er ages than ever before, and through con­tin­ued suc­cess in extend­ing life. Less than 100 years ago, life expectan­cy was between 30 to 40 years. Today, close to 800 mil­lion cit­i­zens are 60 and over.

And aging in health­i­er ways. Aging has incor­rect­ly been asso­ci­at­ed with decline and decay, when in fact many peo­ple live healthy into old­er ages. There has been a syn­chro­nous exten­sion in life expectan­cy and qual­i­ty of life — the aver­age 65-year-old today is much health­i­er, phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly, than the aver­age 50-year-old of 100–150 years ago — when most exist­ing insti­tu­tions were envi­sioned and cre­at­ed.

Healthy life can be fur­ther extend­ed with exist­ing knowl­edge. The fact is the onset and pro­gres­sion of fatal and dis­abling dis­eases, dis­or­ders, and dis­abil­i­ty can be post­poned using well-researched basic mea­sures of pub­lic health, envi­ron­men­tal and behav­iour­al changes, and med­ical tech­nol­o­gy inter­ven­tions. The same meth­ods may be used to improve or main­tain men­tal and phys­i­cal func­tion­ing.

Our health­care and retire­ment sys­tems are on bank­rupt­cy track — their premis­es are out­dat­ed. Exist­ing insti­tu­tions, poli­cies and atti­tudes do not reflect the points out­lined above, hav­ing been devel­oped for a soci­ety that no longer exists. We need to get on the right track: aging pop­u­la­tions rep­re­sent poten­tial resources that are cur­rent­ly untapped or under­uti­lized.

The cur­rent dis­ease-based research agen­da com­pounds the prob­lem: emerg­ing bio­med­ical research holds the promise of slow­ing down the bio­log­i­cal process­es of aging — there­by con­tribut­ing to low­er preva­lence rates of a spec­trum of dis­eases. Yet, giv­en exist­ing fund­ing par­a­digms, there is not a well-inte­grat­ed and fund­ed research plan in place to dri­ve the agen­da.

Solu­tion: Cap­tur­ing the Longevi­ty Div­i­dend with a Healthy Aging Agen­da

Get­ting our insti­tu­tions and poli­cies in the right track -giv­en the grow­ing exten­sion of healthy life- can pay a series of eco­nom­ic, health, and oth­er life course div­i­dends. A course change can have a sig­nif­i­cant return on invest­ment, and the absence of this course change will have a series of neg­a­tive con­se­quences glob­al­ly. We need to cap­ture the longevi­ty div­i­dend to ben­e­fit peo­ple of all ages, as well as old­er adults- stop think­ing Bur­den, start think­ing Human Cap­i­tal to be main­tained and deployed.

To cap­ture this Longevi­ty Div­i­dend, we need to move the agen­da for­ward in three com­pli­men­ta­ry areas:

1) Pro­mote Healthy Lifestyles that help Main­tain Phys­i­cal and Cog­ni­tive Func­tion­al Abil­i­ties:

- Part­ner to Raise the Pre­ven­tion Agen­da: we need adopt a cross-sec­tor life course approach to health pro­mo­tion, engag­ing not only the health and insur­ance sys­tem but also the edu­ca­tion sys­tem and the media sec­tor. In health­care, we need to inte­grate med­ical care and pub­lic health approach­es to pre­vent and ame­lio­rate chron­ic dis­eases and con­di­tions — geri­atric med­i­cine offer a valu­able tem­plate for health care redesign that would be ben­e­fi­cial for all.

- Invest in Life­long Learn­ing: invest­ing in edu­ca­tion at every point in the life course, encour­ag­ing life long learn­ing.

2) Redesign Envi­ron­ments to Fos­ter Health, Engage­ment and Finan­cial Secu­ri­ty:

- Redesign Retire­ment Poli­cies: redesign­ing the cur­rent retire­ment par­a­digm through enhanced flex­i­bil­i­ty offers a win/ win/ win sce­nario — for employ­ers, employ­ees, and soci­ety at large.

- Pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for pro­duc­tive engage­ment: cre­ate new gen­er­a­tive roles and a host of oppor­tu­ni­ties for pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and engage­ment by elder adults. These would con­fer huge soci­etal ben­e­fits on unmet glob­al needs, and if designed cor­rect­ly, will pro­mote the health of an aging soci­ety. One exam­ple is the “expe­ri­ence corps” mod­el.

- Redesign Cities: redesign­ing cities to sup­port healthy aging and inde­pen­dence and engage­ment. One of the tran­si­tions that will take place is that a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of future cohorts will live in cities. Hence, we need to cre­ate nec­es­sary envi­ron­ments and trans­porta­tions that will accom­mo­date this trend.

3) Devel­op an inte­grat­ed Healthy Aging Research Agen­da: the dis­ease-spe­cif­ic mod­el needs to be sup­ple­ment­ed by advanc­ing research design to slow the bio­log­i­cal process­es of aging. We need to raise and inte­grate resources to invest in research for inno­va­tion in new social exper­i­ments, retire­ment and pen­sion poli­cies that work, con­tin­u­um of liv­ing cir­cum­stances that encour­age liv­ing in place, devel­op­ment of enhance­ments that encour­age phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing, basic bio­log­i­cal research on aging, all built on a strong social com­pact.

There are 2 promis­ing areas to start mov­ing this agen­da for­ward:

1) Pro­pose a new Mil­len­ni­um Devel­op­ment goal: Include these press­ing issues as one of the Mil­len­ni­um Devel­op­ment Goals, opti­miz­ing a full healthy life course and har­ness­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ties of an aging world, includ­ing build­ing effec­tive approach­es.

2) Pro­pose a Healthy Aging agen­da for Glob­al 2000 com­pa­nies: in part­ner­ship with the appro­pri­ate Coun­cils, sug­gest research-based prac­tices and poli­cies: — Health pro­mo­tion in the work place.
— Flex­i­ble retire­ment poli­cies.
— Defin­ing new roles for old­er adults and civic engage­ment.
— Invest in life long learn­ing.
— Devel­op new tech­nolo­gies, prod­ucts and ser­vices for an under­served, and grow­ing, mar­ket.

Now, your turn:  can you help define the chal­lenges and out­line the solu­tions?

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

3 Responses

  1. Hugo Vigoroso says:

    This mean­ing­ful per­spec­tive could be help­ful to Pres.-elect Obama’s team?
    Share your state­ment
    with them?

  2. Hel­lo Hugo, we will cer­tain­ly approach his team as our work gets a bit more trac­tion. Thank you!

  3. Deborah says:

    I recent­ly came across your blog and have been read­ing along. I thought I would leave my first com­ment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed read­ing. Nice blog. I will keep vis­it­ing this blog very often.


Leave a Reply

Categories: Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness, Professional Development, Technology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

All Slidedecks & Recordings Available — click image below

Search for anything brain-related in our article archives

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.