We all know that one day we’re going to get old, and yet while we view ageing as inevitable it’s something we can’t stop questioning or wondering about.
The reason we have been conditioned to think of ageing as inevitable is because there has never been an alternative, it’s a fundamental truth – we’re all going to get old! So, is it getting old that’s the issue or is it actually about how healthy we’re going to be as we age?
Around the world there are some serious efforts and significant amounts of money being spent on solving ageing and extending human longevity, but do we want to live longer if we’re not necessarily going to live healthier?
Maybe it’s time we look at ageing and health differently.
How old do you want to live if you are in reasonably good health? 80, 90 or even 110 years old? Now ask yourself the same question but assume for a moment that your health is poor. Imagine that you suffer from a disabling, chronic disease that prevents you from living your life to the fullest. How long would you like to live assuming your condition will worsen as you age?
Currently in New Zealand, like other parts of the world, we have a rapidly ageing population which not only increases demand on our health system, it also impacts our economy. And while we may be living longer, and some of us are living longer in good health, we are also living longer in poor health.
Put another way, only 70 – 80% of the years of life gained over the past 25 years have been years lived in good health. Our health system has proved more effective at preventing early death than at avoiding or preventing chronic disease such as hypertension and diabetes.
We need to put greater focus on addressing the impact of non-fatal, disabling conditions, whether through prevention or improved management to enable people to live more of their extra years of life in good health.
This is what we refer to as the human health-span – the years that a person lives in good, strong health and is free of weakness or disease. What’s the point of living to 95 or even 120 years of age if we spend 30 – 40 years in pain and sickness.
The key to extending the human health-span is proactive prevention.
The good news is that we now have the knowledge and the technology at our fingertips to proactively intervene and assist in reducing the onset of chronic disease.
These technologies, which rely on genetic testing, help determine an individuals’ susceptibility to disease, years or even decades before the actual disease may manifest itself. Not only that, these technologies can also be used after diagnosis to prevent the worsening of a patients’ condition and guide treatment to avoid adverse events.
We have the capability to anticipate health issues with unprecedented precision, pinpointing exactly what we need to do before any risk factors associated with disease even arises. Our responsibility is to use this knowledge to ensure that as we extend our lifespan we do it in good health.