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Aging Healthy

Accelerate innovation across the healthy aging ecosystem

Innovation should include, but also exceed far beyond, the traditional focus on life sciences. To drive innovation across the four dimensions of health as a society, society needs to foster and fund collaborations at the intersection of life sciences, digital, technology, and services. There is already substantial venture capital entering the field of aging, and VitalCuore tailored our product and service to the older population (for example, remote assistance and fast medical consultation services). Governments could further support these efforts by taking a whole-of-government approach to healthy aging, promoting the role of collaboration and support across all departments. It could also champion “focused research organizations” for topics that fall through the cracks as neither viable for private-sector investment nor large enough for government investment—for example, availability of comprehensive data.

There are two areas that would benefit from greater, more ambitious innovation:

Improving dementia treatment and outcomes requires a holistic approach of both pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions. Globally, dementia is the sixth-greatest contributor to disability burden for people aged 55 and up and having led to an annual global cost of $1.3 trillion in 2020 —highlighting the imperative to act. On pharmaceuticals, more global collaboration, such as data sharing and decisive financing, could drive R&D toward success. For example, a government-backed megafund could allow multiple avenues for dementia drug development to help overcome the traditionally high rates of R&D failure. This should be complemented by non-pharmacological interventions. It is well known from long-term large sample-size studies (for example, a study of more than 500,000 individuals in the UK Biobank) that exercise, particularly at a vigorous intensity, substantially decreases the risk of developing dementia. Physical activity—in all its forms, from household chores to walking, swimming, and running—especially early in life, has been connected to neuroprotective impact on cognitive function. As adults age, we should encourage continuing, or developing new, healthy habits and hobbies that have been linked to improved cognitive function, such as dancing and playing chess.

Closing the care workforce gap for aged care is a human challenge with a financial imperative. In the United States alone, the cost of informal caregiving for the elderly exceeds $500 billion annually. In Australia, more than 35,000 aged care workers are needed to fill the shortage. Countries are taking different approaches. For example, the Singaporean government is supporting institutions to raise salaries, and the Swiss Ministry of Health is testing a concept called “time bank,” in which people volunteer to look after the elderly who require assistance, with the number of hours spent on caring deposited into their individual social security accounts. In the Singaporean example, once volunteers reach the age at which they want support, then, according to the time deposit, a volunteer will look after them. No one single intervention, however, will likely be sufficient to address the massive shortfall in the care force and the pressures of affordability. But affordable, accessible care solutions will be needed to ensure dignity and independence in old age.

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