UK’s gloves are off in the fight for healthy ageing Isn’t living longer a good thing?
George MacGinnis: It’s true that we are living longer, but we’re not necessarily enjoying all those extra years in good health. We should be working to “add life to years, rather than years to life”. In the UK, the older adult population is projected to grow by nearly 45% from 2015 through 2035, almost 10 times faster than the working-aged population. This demographic change is a huge opportunity to grow our skilled workforce and businesses’ customer bases. Think about the massive injection of productivity we could have if we shift our mindset to include this influx of talent.
Jamie Metzl: The goal is to live healthier longer – what we call “healthspan”. Imagine how much better off we all would be if we added five or 10 healthy years to people’s lives. Our older populations have so much to contribute to society. We’d have more wisdom, love, poetry, innovation, and everything else.
If science has enabled us to live longer, does science have the answer?
JM: Science will help us live longer, but we’ll still need the wisdom and innovation to use these new capabilities wisely. If we use genetic and other technologies to live longer in ways that exacerbate inequality or reduce our essential diversity, we will be worse off. That’s why science, ethics and regulation must all develop together. The challenge we now face is that while the science is advancing exponentially, public understanding and government regulation are only inching forward.
GM: To add to Jamie’s point, healthy ageing requires a multifaceted approach. The UK Government is prioritizing the use of data to enable earlier diagnosis, and UK employers such as Mercer are recognizing the value in reskilling older employees so they can remain a productive part of the workforce. Sense of purpose, physical activity and good diet are ow seen as essential for good health.
Why should businesses care?
GM: Many businesses are not producing the products and services that people in later life need and, importantly, want. In one survey, four in five of those aged over 55 said their favorite retail brand no longer understands them or what they need. Yet, in 2015, the “silver economy” sustained nearly $4.7 trillion in GDP and more than 78 million jobs globally. If ranked among sovereign nations, the silver economy would be the third-largest economy in the world, behind only the USA and China.
A recent report from Age UK and AARP highlights the opportunities in age-friendly banking and how services, products and facilities can be made more accessible as people age, while preventing financial exploitation. There are many UK companies leading the way, including Coventry Building Society’s anti-fraud work, Lloyds Banking Group’s system for registering a power of attorney, and Legal & General’s innovative financial products such as lifetime loans.
JM: I agree, the opportunity is now and massive. The genetics revolution will become a trillion dollar industry. We are at the equivalent moment to when the first email was sent, only the biotechnology revolution will have more profound consequences.
There has been a lot of hype over recent years about the future of healthcare – where does that fit in this new narrative?
JM: Our healthcare systems will be transitioning over the coming years from today’s generalized care based on population averages to a system of precision medicine based on each person’s individual biology and to the coming world of predictive health. This will help us anticipate future problems and address them well before any symptoms show up. We will also be able to identify and mimic the expression of genetic patterns that help some people live healthier longer than others. If we handle it well, this transition from sick care to healthcare to future care will benefit everyone.
GM: Thinking about care specifically, businesses have an opportunity to create innovations that lessen the demand on caregivers and increase independence. The UK Department of Health and Social Care in 2016 started the Healthy New Towns Program, which will build 26,000 homes within a community that embeds promotion of healthcare and wellness into its blueprint.
So what else is the UK doing?
JM: In all of my lectures around the world, I say that the UK is the best-regulated health system in the world, particularly as it relates to genetic technologies.
GM: The mission of UK’s Ageing Society Grand Challenge is to add five extra, healthy years to people’s lives while reducing inequalities. To advance this, a $125m Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for Healthy Ageing will fund research and disruptive business ideas that support people staying in their homes for longer, tackle loneliness, and increase independence and wellbeing. The fund underlines the commitment of the UK Government to designing and innovating for the future. Organizations and businesses interested in applying for the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for Healthy Ageing can visit www.ukri.org/innovation/industrialstrategychallenge-fund/healthy-ageing/ formore information. George MacGinnis has a background in leading health and care innovation programs with experience covering the USA, Ireland, the Nordics, and Middle East. Jamie Metzl (@JamieMetzl) is a member of the World Health Organization international advisory committee on human genome editing. www.jamiemetzl.com