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Experts Call for New Research Focus to Slow Aging and Extend Healthy Life
Advances in science predict a “Longevity Dividend” of economic and social benefits
Washington, D.C. – Acknowledging increases in life expectancy and unprecedented aging of populations worldwide, experts from the United States and United Kingdom make the case for a new model of health promotion aimed at slowing aging in humans. Published online by the British Medical Journal (BMJ.com), the experts argue that interventions in aging that have worked in animals are now appropriate for disease prevention in humans and call for a well-funded and aggressive research strategy to extend healthy life.
The paper comes on the heels of a report by researchers at the National Institute on Aging in the July 3 issue of Cell Metabolism that the compound resveratrol slows age-related deterioration in mice.
“The risk for many diseases doubles every five to seven years after age 50,” says Daniel Perry, co-author of the BMJ paper and executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research. “Investing in research to slow the rate of aging has the potential to produce far greater social and economic benefits than seeking cures for diseases of aging one at a time.”
According to Perry, a new research focus on aging is a wise investment given the aging of America’s 78 million baby boomers. The Alliance calls it the “Silver Tsunami”—the rising tide of chronic diseases of aging that threatens to engulf American health care in the 21st century. It is estimated that nearly half of all Americans—and 90 percent of those who are age 65—have at least one chronic disease. The average 75-year-old suffers from three chronic health conditions and takes five prescription medications. Just six diseases—heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s—cost the U.S. more than one trillion dollars each year.
To support “a systematic attack on aging” the authors propose a large increase in resources to investigate how diseases such as type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease and most cancers interact with aging or share mechanisms in common with it.
The authors underscore the potential benefits that would accrue from a new focus on slowing aging. An extension of healthy life would produce health, economic and social benefits, collectively referred to as the “longevity dividend.”
In an accompanying article, Canadian professor Colin Farrelly references the Alliance’s September 2006 Capitol Hill symposium, “Going for the Longevity Dividend: Scientific Goals for the World’s Aging Populations” and encourages policymakers to address the important question of slowing aging. He states that “the longevity dividend deserves a prominent place on the policy agenda.”
At the 2006 symposium, the Alliance released a statement signed by some 100 scientists and advocates from 16 nations calling for a greater focus on investment in aging research, because such research has “the potential to do what no surgical procedure, behavior modification or cure for any one major fatal disease can do; namely, extend youthful vigor throughout the lifespan.”
[“New model of health promotion and disease prevention for the 21st century,” BMJ 2008;337:a399, doi: 10.1136/bmj.a399 (Published 8 July 2008): Robert N. Butler, Richard A. Miller, Daniel Perry, Bruce A. Carnes, T. Franklin Williams, Christine Cassel, Jacob Brody, Marie A. Bernard, Linda Partridge, Thomas Kirkwood, George M. Martin, S. Jay Olshansky.]
Founded in 1986, the Alliance for Aging Research is a nonprofit, independent organization dedicated to improving the health and independence of aging Americans through public and private funding of medical research and geriatric education. The Alliance combines the interest of top scientists, public officials, business executives, and foundation leaders to promote a greater national investment in research and new technologies that will prepare our nation for the coming senior boom, and improve the quality of life for today’s older generation.