Implications of a Rapidly Aging World – A perspective before the holidays
Having recently attended a small roundtable discussion hosted by ForeignPolicy.com and AARP where we discussed the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly aging world, it shed much light on where our priorities as a society should be.
In the midst of a global change in demographics where the over 65 age group will nearly triple by 2050, it’s not just about the significant growth in population, as much as it is about the changing landscape in the PERCENT of those over 65. In the United States today, those over the age of 65 make up approximately 13% of the population, but by 2050 they’ll be at 21%. Globally this percentage is more than doubling from 7% to 15%. Paraphrasing David Rothkopf, CEO of Foreign Policy, what does it mean when we re-define our world in the context of these new demographics?
It can have tremendous implications on employment, financial services, healthcare, and the global economy. People today are staying in the workforce longer, companies are just beginning to understand how to reap the benefits of these changes, and the 50+ demographic now has the largest spending power of any other age group.
Implications & Challenges
With tremendous implications, come tremendous opportunities and challenges. When we look at the healthcare front, while society has made leaps and bounds in lifespan by doubling the longevity of life over the last 100 years, this has significantly outpaced the increase in healthspan. What’s the difference?
Lifespan is the length of time for which a person lives
Healthspan is the period of one’s life that is generally healthy
Because what’s the point in living longer if we can’t continue to have a meaningful and fulfilling life? This is aside from the estimates that the US healthcare burden of those with chronic disease is now over $1 trillion annually, and set to rise by over 3 times in the next 15 years. For older adults in the United States alone, Alzheimer’s affects 5.1 million, depression affects 7 million, and a staggering 42 million suffer of heart disease.
These numbers continue to rise, and how we manage this issue will be instrumental in shaping our future society. This is likely the biggest problem that the United States and countries around the world will face in the next 40 years.
Opportunity For Healthy Aging
Despite these immense challenges there exists considerable and promising opportunities. Healthy aging is a multifaceted problem that’s dependent on the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social aspects of a person's life. We’ve seen studies that show physical activity can successfully reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and coronary heart disease by 33% and 50% respectively, just by walking more.
Loneliness has shown to be associated with a greater range of chronic conditions that include clinical depression, stroke, and coronary heart disease. While there’s a positive outlook with many boomers leading a more active lifestyle than the generation before them, we’re all responsible in the ecosystem of care for our older loved ones. By engaging in their lives, we can build stronger relationships to keep them emotionally fulfilled, and help encourage an active lifestyle.
So when you’re celebrating the upcoming holidays with family and friends, think about your loved ones and how we can engage in their lives. Over the next 10 years, our focus doesn’t need to be about living longer. It needs to be about living better.
Hanson Chang is a Co-Founder of Reassure Analytics, where they focus on helping others engage in the care of their loved ones.
He's held various roles at a Fortune 500 medical device company, most recently as a R&D Director. Hanson has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from University of California Irvine (UCI), MS in Medical Device and Diagnostic Engineering from University of Southern California (USC), and MBA from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
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