The Coming Age of Unprecedented healthy Life Extension and Why You Should Be Cheering It On!
By Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD. and Michael Nuschke, CFP, RFP, CIM, FCSI
Have you given serious thought to what it would be like to live to age 120 plus? Recent polls in the US and Canada revealed that a large majority of people were decidedly not in favour of using biomedical interventions to be able to live past 120. No surprise you say? After all, why would anyone want to extend the part of our lives that we would rather avoid? Why prolong an old age that brings loss of independence, painful debilitating illnesses, mental decline – not to mention huge medical bills! Over eighty percent of our lifetime medical expenses occur in the last few years of life.
But wait! What if you could be in better physical and mental health in 20 years, than you are now? Would that change your view towards what is called by futurists and aging researchers “radical life extension”?
Imagine yourself in your late 80’s happily playing tennis, in your 90’s hiking around Machu Picchu, getting a second masters degree in literature and then in your 100’s writing a best-selling novel (something you never thought of doing until you were 97!). What if this could all be done while helping the planet develop into a more sustainable, healthy place to live? Sound too futuristically phantasmagoric? Maybe not! Consider that retirement planning is about the future – your future. And given the acceleration of change in our world, consider that your future will be dramatically different than your past.
Perhaps the most important feature about your future is that radical healthy life extension is coming. Just how soon it arrives is up to us, our openness to it, our actions supporting it (…and yes, we will be able to afford it. More on this later). But it will require a change in how we view our lives and how we view our retirement years. First let’s look at just how such a thing as radical healthy life extension is going to get here.
How Advances in Biomedicine Will Make It Into Your Neighbourhood Clinic and Help You Add Decades to Your Lifespan
From a scientific and technological perspective we are today living in the most riveting time in history. Previously, major breakthroughs were remarkable in a given year. Now, we can see multiple dramatic advances announced weekly. The advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology are each not only accelerating, but in addition they are “cross-pollinating” or what innovation researchers Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee call “combinatorial innovation”. This is where one innovation enables another innovation which enables another innovation and so on.
Advances in science and technology have already greatly impacted our lives. However, when it comes to improved living standards and the exchange of healthcare and other information, our world has never looked as much of a single, connected hub as it does today. The result has been that the average resident of a major metropolis from New York and Los Angeles to Shanghai today enjoys better healthcare, more advanced technology, and more plentiful and nutritious food all year round than the rulers of the British Empire just one century ago.
But the real world-shaking revolution from technology’s advance has yet to arrive. It will emerge via biomedicine, a broad area of science related to advanced medical innovations. In fact, this revolution is already happening. A wide range of effective preventative and re-generative drugs are already in laboratories. But not unlike the computer industry in the 70’s, these discoveries have not yet manifested themselves at the consumer level. As the American-Canadian science fiction writer William Gibson said, “The future is here, it is just not widely distributed.” Indeed, from discovery to clinic, major biomedical discoveries can take well over two decades to reach us due to the extremely long and expensive drug development process.
Drug development is just one form of how advances in biotechnology will lead to longer, healthier lives. The real low-hanging fruit is in the rapid advances we are seeing in aging research. There, truly remarkable breakthroughs will extend lives in the near future through innovations in regenerative medicine, bioengineered organs made from patients’ own cells, cell therapies that repair the damage and replenish the supply of brand new building blocks for your body, and drugs that accelerate regeneration. These interventions are already a reality in studies on mice and even in humans.
In fact, there are stem cell products already in clinical use that help us repair bone, cartilage, and fight diseases. Just three years ago, which now already seems like forever, professor Paolo Macchiarini managed to transplant the artificial trachea made from the patient’s own cells back into the terminally injured patient saving her life. Since then this procedure has been improved and repeated many times. Besides organic organs, artificial organs and implants are also rapidly advancing. There are people alive today only thanks to completely artificial heart implants. There is already active competition by multiple companies developing these innovations. Once these advances reach the clinic, we will see increases in human longevity that seemed previously unimaginable.
Out of about one trillion medical research dollars spent over the past 20 years, at least 60 billion of current research is expected to yield some kind of life extension benefit. These “longevity dividends” will extend the life of the majority of the people in the developed countries including the population that is due to retire within the next twenty years. In today’s accelerating pace of medical breakthroughs, by just extending life spans a few years we buy time to access even more powerful regenerative therapies. We are talking about Boomers Zooming for decades longer – and likely much longer than they currently think! Are you ready?
Why Cheer For Radical Life Extension
Depending on one’s outlook in life, life-extending biomedical progress may be viewed as a blessing or a curse. On the other hand, there are huge global financial benefits of extending productive life spans. There are two gigantic economic benefits to radical healthy life extension;
1) staying healthy and productive longer increases our “human capital” or our ability to earn income, and gives essential breathing room to a looming pension crisis.
2) by staying healthy longer, we avoid or at least put off the extremely expensive medical costs associated with the “last mile of life”.
The current medical paradigm is that treatments get costlier and more frequent with age. Currently two-thirds of what governments in the developed countries spend on social security for retirees is actually spent on healthcare. Reducing these costs will free up a major portion of the country’s budget. In the US, the world’s largest economy, healthcare costs represent almost one fifth of the $15.7 trillion GDP. Savings would be enough to double the GDP of Africa and eliminate hunger.
On a personal level, living longer and healthier (body and mind) will open the door to having a longer period of personal productivity and life adventure. More and more, retirees are finding it a more fulfilling lifestyle to continue to earn an income in “retirement”. By continuing to earn an income, we reduce the need to rely on pensions and we stay meaningfully engaged in life.
Meanwhile, staying healthy means we can enjoy our extra years and avoid, or at least defer, the extreme end-of-life expenses. As a society, we need to proactively extend the retirement age and prepare those who are now approaching retirement as to the inevitability and desirability of a longer life span. If we do not, we will face a most dire global economic decline. The medical and social support costs of an unprepared aging population will overwhelm the economy’s ability to support our accustomed way of life.
Extending healthy, productive life spans seems to be in everyone’s best interest. Nevertheless, when asked, a large percentage of us are not in favour of radical life extension. There are many reasons we offer for our reticence. One big concern is how we will afford it.
“I can’t afford to live to age 100+!”
OK by now you have likely thought, “How will I be able to afford to live to 100 plus even if I’m in good shape?” But that question is not considering how your future will change.
Peer into the near future where new medical advances will help us live active, healthy lives – and maybe eventually give us the body and mind of a 25 year old. Yes, we will need extra funds for taking advantage of these breakthrough-remedies. Meanwhile, our access to government and even private pensions may get reduced or deferred due to so many people living longer. So how will you be able to retire? Perhaps a more accurate question is, “How can I afford my extended life if fewer leading-edge healthcare costs are covered, pensions get reduced and/or deferred and automation and robots are taking more and more jobs away?!”
The key solution has been alluded to already – continue to earn an income. Not what many of us want to hear, but consider that this future of ours promises to be a truly wondrous place! Our real challenge is to find a way to generate an income by doing what we love to do. By adjusting our mindset, and adjusting our financial priorities and planning, this is doable.
The same forces behind the acceleration in technological and medical advances are enabling new ways to advance our skills, and new ways to earn an income. A multitude of online courses – many offered by world-class universities – provide one avenue to explore some new income avenues. Meanwhile, online consulting sites provide ways to get paid for your wisdom, your experience. The possibilities mushroom as technology opens the world to us.
This new life paradigm will require a new focus on changing the retirement culture. The old School/Work/Retire triad needs to change into a continuing progression of Education/Training/Livelihood/Exploration. We will see the creation of centres for lifelong learning and lifelong career planning. Seeing your life coach will replace seeing your dentist.
The deferring of full retirement produces a newfound wealth of productive capacity for the economy –the retirement culture of “entitled leisure” will be turned on its head. To prosper in this coming world, we just need to keep our minds open. We need to see the benefits, both personal and global, to supporting research into anti-aging and regenerative therapies. The present urgency to put even more effort on aging research stems from the horrendous economic burden that the aging population in the developed countries will place on people all over the globe. It is time to face this new reality. Those who are retiring today and who are due to retire in the next decades are likely going to live extraordinarily long lives due to the advances in biomedicine.
We are all invited to embark on a grand new exploration into a never-before-seen-world of radical healthy life extension enabled by technology. But for it to manifest fully is a choice, our choice.
About the Authors:
Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD is the director and a trustee of the Biogerontology Research Foundation, a UK-based think tank supporting aging research worldwide and is the founder of the International Aging Research Portfolio, a non-profit curated knowledge management system for aging research. He heads the laboratory of regenerative medicine and the chief scientist at the bioinformatics laboratory at the Clinical Research Center for Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology. He is the CEO of In Silico Medicine in the US and is the and the VP of the First Oncology Research and Advisory Center, where his research interests include cancer bioinformatics, in silico geroprotector discovery, machine learning in aging research and personalized science. Dr. Zhavoronkov is the author of “The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy”(Palgrave Macmillan, NY, 2013). Dr. Zhavoronkov has two undergraduate degrees in commerce and computer science from Queen’s University in Canada, masters in biotechnology from the Johns Hopkins University in the US and a PhD degree in physics and mathematics from the Moscow State University in Russia. He is the adjunct professor at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
Michael Nuschke, CFP, RFP, CIM, FCSI is a retirement planning specialist turned retirement futurist. Through his writing and speaking, his key aim is to communicate the game-changing implications of healthy life extension and technological disruption to what we now call “retirement planning”. He is currently a Halifax-based Senior Financial Planning Advisor with a leading Canadian financial planning firm, but also spends several months per year in Mexico advising Canadian snowbirds and expats. Michael writes a blog on the future of retirement called “RetirementSingularity.com”. He is also the author of a free Special Report called “Retirement Singularity; The End of Retirement As We Know It” available through his blog. Michael has a B.A. from McGill University and holds the CFP, RFP, CIM, and FCSI professional designations
This article first appeared at CARP online;