Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, made the astute comment that "Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late."
The United States’ sizable Baby Boomer generation is advancing towards retirement age. With that comes increased disease, reduced quality of life, an often-prolonged decline with infirmity, and eventually the tragedy of death. The consequences and the costs of the aging Boomer population are already beginning to have a profound effect on the Boomers themselves, their families and all of society. This will increase exponentially in coming years. Unless we do something to meaningfully address the process of aging itself our health care systems and Social Security will almost certainly become burdened to the point of placing the survival of our social safety nets in jeopardy. It is time for our nation to undertake a serious discussion about the work to prevent this from happening.
As stated in the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2013, "Mismanagement of Population Aging," failure to address both the rising costs and social challenges associated with population aging is the greatest societal risk of the coming decade. This is particularly true for the United States because of our exorbitant healthcare costs and during this sensitive time as the United States enacts the Affordable Healthcare Act.
We must prioritize the maintenance of a good quality of life for all Americans: the young, those of working age, and those of advanced age, because it takes all of us to constitute our vibrant society. Older Americans deserve the opportunity to remain in sound health and mind and not languishing in nursing homes, physically and financially dependent on taxpayers. The solution for giving Americans new options for healthy life is to develop new methods to intervene in the underlying causes of aging. Methods tailored to the young, to those of adult and middle age, and to those who are already experiencing more considerable effects of the aging process.
But sadly, the current funding for such an approach is a virtually nonexistent fraction of the Federal medical research budget, and not many decisionmakers even think about aging and the tragic loss of life that eventually results as preventable. Thankfully, medical technology is on the precipice of enabling humans to rethink aging itself, and it is imperative for those who care about this intrinsic issue to demand progress that will give us greater control over our health and bodily autonomy over our lifespan.
In order to make such meaningful progress, America needs to:
1) Ensure a significant increase of Federal funding for goal oriented progress on preventing the aging process at all stages of human life -- not just the prevention of aging once it is well underway in our advanced years of life -- including an increase of the budget of the National Institute of Health (NIH) dedicated to this purpose.
2) Develop and adopt a legal and regulatory framework that incentivizes goal oriented research and development designed to specifically address the development, registration, and administering of drugs and other therapies that will ameliorate the aging process.
3) Establish a medical advisory board to develop clinical guidelines to modulate the aging process, and a scientific advisory board to steer future useful research on the topic.
We urge our elected representatives and regulators to get inspired, and undertake this vitally important issue by bringing it to the forefront of public discussion. This approach is critically needed to achieve a healthier and resilient society and economy for current generations and those yet to come.