Ageing in the world – the implications

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By Hennie Bezuidenhoudt*

Ageing, or to be more specific, the slowing of ageing, is a situation that has far reaching and serious implications on a global scale. The elderly population is growing and are, simply put, living to a much healthier and ‘riper’ old age.

Hennie Bezuidenhout, Martin Freeman
Hennie Bezuidenhout and Martin Freeman

The facts are there. Life expectancy has increased by 27 years since 1841 and the average age in the USA will increase to 120 plus by 2050. For those who like to think in terms of percentages, the percentage of the USA population aged 65 and older will rocket from around 13% recorded in 1980 to 23% by 2050. This is within just 70 short years.

What causes ageing?

Perhaps the cause of ageing is a good place to start to analyse what is changing and why. Environment and cellular processes cause damage to our genes and chromosomes and telemores gradually wear down. Over time, environmental factors change how DNA sequences are read and implemented – and proteins no longer function as they should resulting in cancers and neurological disorders.

Chronic illness results when mitochondria, our cellular power plants, no longer perform and as cells age they cause inflammation. The reduction of stem cells (up to 10,000 fold) is a major factor contributing to our no longer being able to regenerate or repair the body or its organs. Finally the disrupted communication mechanisms of cells decreases our ability to transmit information between them.

What is changing?

All sounds like bad news doesn’t it – but as I have written in previous articles, thanks to incredible technologies and advances in medical science, many of these degenerative issues and causes are being addressed and reversed. AI (Artificial Intelligence) and all its spin offs, have contributed to the decline of the cancer mortality rate by 27% over just the last 25 years.

Smart devices generate real-time data about patients and allow them to report their own subjective symptoms more accurately. These are all possible through IoMT (Internet of Medical Things), which integrates personal digital devices, connected medical devices, implants and other sensors.

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Stem-cell technology is able to help cartilage and other parts of the body to regrow, so operations on joints could become a thing of the past. Most amazing of all is that whole body parts may be able to be reproduced through 3D printing.

What are the implications?

So is it good news or bad? Is the fact that we are on the brink of being able to literally build a bionic man or prolong the life of a human being indefinitely, a plus for humanity, or will it create challenges beyond man’s capabilities to solve?

It is a big subject and has big implications.

We currently lose more of the world’s population to infectious and parasitic diseases, but this will change – and Dementia, Alzheimer’s and all age related chronic diseases will become the primary causes of death.

This implies that we will naturally need far more specialist healthcare workers, particularly in the field of geriatrics. In fact it is estimated that 36,000 geriatricians will be needed in the United States alone by 2030.

Cost too will be a major issue, especially for governments, who could be overburdened by unprecedented medical coverage expenditure. Medicare coverage, currently available in many countries to senior citizens above 65, will most likely be changed and possibly have to be compromised.

Finally this also means that medical care and healthcare facilities will not only have to be extensive, but will need to change in their very nature.

What are the solutions?

Many solutions are being sought and the primary solutions will come in the form changing the nature of healthcare and healthcare facilities.

Care for the aged currently contains a massive grey area of frail care, palliative care, preventative care and a myriad of others. This will all be streamlined into healthcare residential facilities that offer home care and home hospitals.

Orbvest is at the cutting edge of investments being made in the healthcare facilities of the future. Projections show that healthcare could become the number 1 favourite sector of real estate investments in the USA occupying some 56%.

The implications of the extended lifespan of most of the world’s population are as previously stated, numerous, challenging and expensive. There is however, light at the end of the tunnel… and a very much extended, better life to be enjoyed by all.