Breakthroughs at the Tipping Point: The Future of Health, Medicine, Aging, and Longevity | Boulder Longevity Institute

Breakthroughs at the Tipping Point: The Future of Health, Medicine, Aging, and Longevity

A Recap of the Presentation by Ken Dychtwald, PhD
World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine 2022 (Las Vegas, NV)

 

Dr. Ken Dychtwald is a psychologist, gerontologist, and author of 19 books relating to aging. Dychtwald started Age Wave, “an acclaimed think tank and consultancy focused on the social and business implications and opportunities of global aging and rising longevity,” in 1986.

To say Dr. Dychtwald is an expert in all things aging might be an understatement. While not a medical doctor, it is the business of Age Wave to be at the forefront of what is happening as people get older.

Recently, Dr. Dychtwald spoke to a group of researchers, practitioners, and others in the field of anti-aging medicine at the World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine. Dychtwald brought the audience from where we’ve come from to where we are now to where we are stuck, and finally, to where the breakthroughs might be hiding.

 

How Far Has Medicine Come

While many in the field lament the slow pace of the adoption of anti-aging practices, it is worth remembering how far we have come. 

The search for the “Fountain of Youth” has been going on for quite some time. Indeed, a practice of Daoism (arising in 6th century BCE) suggests controlling the breath and body to delay aging. 

While the explorations of those sent by monarchs in search of the “Fountain” resulted in new discoveries of many kinds, no one managed to stumble upon the magical reset button on life. 

Early doctors practiced medicine as a side job and were quite medieval when it came to their ideas of what might work. Alchemists were interested in removing impurities from the body and represented the earliest “doers” in the quest to find a way to be healthier, longer.

The onset of the 20th century brought with it health departments focusing on hand washing and the introduction of penicillin, a game changer in the fight against infection. In the 1940s, as polio began ravaging populations, the iron lung was seen as the only reliable therapy. A “radical” by the name of Jonas Salk decided surviving polio was not the best option – being vaccinated against it was.

From barbers prescribing leeches to doctors promoting cigarettes to decoding the entirety of the human genome, we can begin to see how healthcare has come a long way. So where does that put us right now?

 

Where Medicine Is and How It Feels Stuck

An era of lifestyle change and self care has been building over the past few decades. Combined with the COVID-19 pandemic bringing the immune system to light amongst laypeople, the groundwork has been laid for an interest in longevity medicine. 

Over 99% of human history, life expectancy was under 18 years. Two-thirds of all people who have ever lived past 65 in the history of time are alive today. With so much of the population reaching older ages, healthcare should be entering a place where longevity is taking the forefront.

In fact, longevity medicine is not only important now but will be increasingly vital in the relatively near future. There is a 44% expected growth in the population aged 65 and over. With so much data suggesting we should all be focused on improving both life and healthspan, why does medicine often feel so stuck?

Dr. Dychtwald points out that 90% of physicians graduating in the last decade have no real geriatric training. The older population is often seen as composed of those who “had their chance.” The common “old age” marker of 65 was made popular in the 1880s when life expectancy was 45 years. 

Simply put, the world was designed for younger people, both physically and from the standpoint of expectations. The pervasive thinking that 65 is “old” has led to a culture that caters to those who can “still enjoy their youth.” As Dr. Dychtwald mentions, the dichotomy between young and old is a thing of the past. While we may not accept that on a grand scale yet, it is true.

All signs point to us heading toward a six-generation society, and yet, we continue to pigeonhole older people as reaching the “end” of their fruitful lives. Of course, the generations that looked toward retirement as the end goal are not without fault.

The average American retiree watches a whopping 47 hours of TV per week. At nearly seven hours per day, we can see that there is work to be done on convincing older people to flip the script on hopes and dreams being only for younger people.

Finding motivation to be physically, mentally, and emotionally active as we age is imperative to convincing society-at-large that older people play an important role in our lives. If we can reintegrate older portions of the population into our social stratosphere – getting rid of 47-hour TV weeks and only leaving the house for card games – we will have a better chance at expanding longevity and healthspan. 

The psychology of aging is complicated, as Dr. Dychtwald puts it. If we can look more toward what we can be, rather than what is expected of someone of a “certain age”, we can begin to drag modern medicine toward the realization that the way it has always been done in geriatric care is not good enough anymore.

 

The Breakthroughs Hiding Amongst Us

The term “breakthrough” lends itself to some monumental discovery, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the realization of obvious facts can help guide us in the way we need to go.

Consumers aged 50 and over now control over 79% of total net worth. This age group makes up 35% of the total population and is growing. 50-somethings are highly reluctant to grow old as their parents did. 

All that to say, longevity medicine is likely to be in high demand moving forward. Unfortunately, the current data says we have a long way to go. When considering healthspan, the United States lags woefully behind many, many other nations in both life and healthspan. 

Is there a proper path toward breaking through and changing this paradigm? The simplest way to put it is to be like Jonas Salk. Look for the cure, not the seemingly easiest treatment.

According to Dr. Dychtwald, there are concrete steps we can take to move out of the cycle of the same old, same old when it comes to caring for the aging in a way that increases life and healthspan. 

  • Medical Excellence: The number of geriatric citizens is rapidly increasing while the status quo goes unchanged in healthcare. There are only 16 geriatric programs in the entire United States, while there are over 170 medical schools. Increasing our understanding of healthy aging while encouraging insurance providers to cover more advanced, science-backed treatments will offer a better opportunity for healthy aging.
  • Precision Wellness: Self-care is a convoluted and nearly impossible task for those without a background in medicine. Simply making vitamins, supplements, and other home treatments more accessible will increase their popularity and usage. 
  • Hormone Therapeutics: Doctors do not take the time to understand, test, or supplement hormone deficiencies in the US. We are making discoveries that indicate appropriate hormone levels can improve healthspan and longevity, but there are those who still refuse to include them as part of basic healthcare. 
  • Scientific Breakthrough: Spending on medical research is paltry in the United States. While we spend $5.75 on military costs and $5.27 on Medicare per person per day in this country, we spend about 29 cents per person per day on medical research. We have not made much progress in the realm of research funding since the 1990s. 
  • Social Engagement: 86% of people responded that we would be better off with more collaboration between generations. It is time to go ahead and rid our minds of the image of the person growing old in the chair in the corner – or else they will.

Dr. Dychtwald finished with this challenge: Create a master plan. The numbers point to an environment ripe for a desire to explore healthy aging. It is time to create a cohesive plan for how the anti-aging field is going to run with a population at the tipping point of longer, healthier lifespans.

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Published January 31, 2023
Categories: Conferences

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