Research into ways to delay
ageing would provide better overall health and economic benefits than advances
in deadly diseases such as cancer
disease, according to a new study.
Even modest success in
slowing ageing would increase the number of healthy older adults by 5% every
year between 2030 and 2060, the study suggests. That means there would be 11.7
million more healthy adults over age 65 in the United States in 2060, said the
team of scientists from the University of Southern California, Harvard University,
Columbia University and the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Delaying onset of disease
The researchers also
estimated that the increase in healthy years of life would have an economic
benefit of approximately $7.1 trillion over the next five decades, and that
figure does not include the potential reduction in memory and thinking problems
among older adults.
These calculations are
based on the assumption that research would lead to a 1.25% decline in the risk
of age-related diseases, according to the study, which was published in the journal Health Affairs.
"In the last
half-century, major life-expectancy gains were driven by finding ways to reduce
mortality from fatal diseases," study lead author Dana Goldman, director
of the USC Schaeffer Centre for Health Policy and Economics, said in a
university news release.
"But now disabled life
expectancy is rising faster than total life expectancy, leaving the number of
years that one can expect to live in good health unchanged or diminished,"
Goldman said. "If we can age more slowly, we can delay the onset and
progression of many disabling diseases simultaneously."
In contrast to treatments
for deadly diseases, slowing ageing would provide no health returns initially,
but would offer significant benefits over the long term, the scientists said.
Several lines of research
The number of Americans 65
and older is expected to more than double in the next 50 years, from 43 million
in 2010 to 106 million in 2060. Currently, about 28% of Americans over age 65
"Even a marginal
success in slowing ageing is going to have a huge impact on health and quality
of life," corresponding author S Jay Olshansky, of the School of Public
Health at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said in the news release.
"This is a fundamentally new approach to public health that would attack
the underlying risk factors for all fatal and disabling diseases."
"We need to begin the
research now," he said. "We don't know which mechanisms are going to
work to actually delay ageing, and there are probably a variety of ways this
could be accomplished, but we need to decide now that this is worth
The researchers noted that
several lines of research have already shown how people might age more slowly,
including studying the genetics of people with long life spans. Other studies
have slowed the signs of ageing in animals through the use of drugs or
treatments such as restricting calorie intake.
The researchers believe,
however, that this study is the first to assess the costs and health benefits
of finding ways to delay ageing.
The American Academy of
Family Physicians outlines good health habits for people 60 and older.