Engaged Aging

Aging is a megatrend as big as digital disruption. Already health systems in the US and UK spend more than five times as much on the health care of citizens 65-and-older than they do on the under-25 generation. In the next 30 years, the global population of over 65s is expected to triple to 1.5 billion. EY believes it is possible to realize the upsides of our aging world. In this engaged future, aging is no longer defined by isolation and limitation, but greater connection and possibility. Precision medicine becomes precision health. Today’s elderly become tomorrow’s “well-derly.” It is a powerful vision but getting there won’t be easy. Join EY in engaging and collaborating around this critical topic in new ways. Our goal is to identify solutions with near-term, real-world impact. Together, we can realize the upsides of aging.

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How will we disrupt aging before aging disrupts economic growth?

The World Economic Forum in January 2017 listed aging populations as one of the top five drivers of global change. As the costs of treating diseases of aging threaten to drown health systems and corporate and government agendas globally, it is time to recognize aging for the disruptive force that it is: a megatrend on par with technological dislocations such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

In such an environment, governments, corporations and individuals must work together to disrupt aging before its costs displace other priorities. This global “we” must recognize that managing diseases of aging as they arise is no longer affordable or a strategy for corporate and individual resilience.

To seize the upside of an aging world, public and private organizations must come together to build a wellness infrastructure that not only defines the concept, but also aligns incentives for different stakeholders. It requires reframing health as a long-term asset worth of investment and individual empowerment via tools and technologies, data, and behavioral economics. 

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How will new technologies make age-related diseases a thing of the past?

By some estimates, we spend about 50 times more as a society managing diseases as they occur than we do on research that might prevent those diseases from happening in the first place. New genetic and digital technologies could make aging more sustainable, accelerating the discovery and creation of solutions. The goal is to use transformative technologies to delay the breakdown of function and extend the health span – the ability to age disease-free.

In the near term, that means deploying sensors in phones and ever smaller wearables to cost-effectively monitor, and then manage, known diseases associated with aging. Longer term, innovations in genetic and regenerative medicine, coupled with cheap computing power, improved analytics and a growing understanding of both human behavior and the biology of aging will move treatment upstream to the pre-disease state, where conditions should be cheaper and easier to remedy.

Yet the real shift to wellness will come when pre-emptive efforts are so entrenched in day-to-day life that they no longer merit the label “prevention.” Wellness will be just another part of the normal routine, like brushing one’s teeth or washing one’s face.

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By becoming better health consumers, can we change how we age?

The world is aging, largely thanks to improvements in life expectancy for those 60 or older. Societies worldwide have made great strides in lengthening life, but struggle to achieve widespread lifelong health. The diseases of aging take their toll on quality of life for older persons and the friends and family that care for them.

Prevention and early access to care are key to controlling costs associated with the diseases of aging. Both require the active participation of individual health consumers and a shift in mindset that emphasizes lifelong wellness, not simply freedom from disease. Technological innovation, behavioral economics and increasing health consumerism will each contribute separately – and in interrelated ways – to this healthy longevity orientation. Emerging technologies offer the promise of engaging with people around their health goals, enabling them to reach their personal best, regardless of health status.

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How can new partnerships close the gap between healthy aging and “growing old”?

Even as average life expectancy has increased, there remains a sizeable gap between life span and health span — the years an individual lives without disease. Indeed, the increase in non-communicable diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis means that, for many, growing old is too often seen as a period of diminishment, not opportunity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine if the global community focused its efforts on preserving the physical, social and material dimensions that define healthy aging. Aging would still be inevitable. But by shortening or eliminating the decline that occurs near the end of life, we could maximize the time individuals are physically and mentally vigorous, connected and empowered.

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Could we be our own biggest obstacle to healthcare reform?

In today’s world, infectious and acute diseases are waning, whereas chronic and degenerative illnesses like strokes, diabetes, and cancer—all of which require prolonged care—are on the rise. This is in no small part due to the fact that the global population is aging, with the number of adults over 80 forecast to triple by 2050 (pdf), reaching nearly 434 million.

Data collected through health wearables could increase people’s awareness, encourage prevention, and help manage chronic diseases, ultimately reshaping the global health care landscape. But this could happen only if patients take a more proactive role in their health care decisions—and if everyone involved in health care works to build trust.

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Better with age: the silver opportunity

Across the globe, human life expectancy is steadily increasing. Japan currently has the highest average life expectancy, with people born today expected to reach 83.7 years (World Health Organization, 2015). Japan is followed by highly developed nations such as Switzerland, Singapore and Australia. It is well understood that many governments’ health and social care budgets are under enormous pressure to cope with the aging society and its chronic disease burden.

Life sciences and other industries are in the fortunate position of bringing novel and innovative products and services to this end of the age spectrum. Over the last half-century, vast improvements have been made in extending life expectancy. However, on average, a Japanese elderly person in 2013 still lives their final 9 (male) to 12 (female) years with at least one disease. While extending life is still the key goal, it seems that the ability to decrease the time individuals live with disease has become of prime importance to payers and governments.

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As our population ages, how can we rein in rising costs?

In today’s world, infectious and acute diseases are waning, whereas chronic and degenerative illnesses like strokes, diabetes, and cancer – all of which require prolonged care – are on the rise. This is in no small part due to the fact that the global population is aging, with the number of adults over 80 forecast to triple by 2050, reaching nearly 434 million.

As health care needs increase and the “economic imperative” (as characterized by the World Health Organization) to reduce expenditures grows, making aging economically sustainable is one of the largest challenges facing governments, industry, health systems and, not least, individuals. Chris Moore, EY Partner and Life Sciences Advisory Sector Leader in EMEIA, summed it up recently at the FT Digital Health Summit Europe 2016: “We face an aging population who, if it doesn’t manage its exercise and diet, is at a strong risk of extensive chronic diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular problems. We need to deal with the problem before it becomes a problem.”

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