The world is on the verge of a historical demographic transition. For the first time in human history, the number of people aged 60 and over is going to exceed that of children under the age of 10 by 2030. Do we truly know the implications of this phenomenon for our society and economy?
This remarkable transformation is primarily driven by falling fertility and mortality rates all over the world, tremendous progress achieved in medical science and technology, and the ushering-in of industrial development that have empowered individuals and their lifestyle. Our ‘Shifting Lifestyles’ theme seeks to identify the challenges and the opportunities associated with this momentous demographic shift.
Extended longevity is one of the most powerful demographic trends shaping our future. In 1950, there were roughly 130 million people aged 65 and over in the world. By 2015, the size of this age cohort had grown five-fold to reach 600 million globally. This number, according to the United Nations, is set to expand further to nearly 1.6 billion by 2050.
Although the onset and pace of this demographic transition may vary among countries and regions due to specific local conditions, the fact is that the total human population and the share of older people in our midst are steadily increasing. Our lifespan is not only longer, but our healthspan is also better than for adults of previous generations. In other words, we are living longer and better. Such a remarkable social phenomenon will undoubtedly encourage more people to participate more actively in the world economy and to make greater contributions to their local communities and society at large. It is therefore important to seize the opportunities related to the longevity dividend brought forth by the rise of the human tide. This could be one of the biggest stories of the 21st century.
An ageing population and a higher incidence of chronic diseases are driving up medical costs around the world at an increasingly unsustainable rate, alarming various healthcare stakeholders like payers, providers and producers. To keep costs down and still provide high-quality care for patients, the adoption of digital technologies could transform the healthcare industry in the decades to come. Healthcare will no longer be limited to the confines of the doctor’s office only, but will also include locations like your home, workplace or holiday destination thanks to technology.
Given that there are around 6,000 untreatable diseases in the world today, medical breakthroughs in the field of genomics could help unriddle the mysteries of these health conditions at the molecular level and raise hopes of finding personalised cures for patients. We can now even envisage future health, where diseases are better managed, human lifespan is longer, and medical treatments are personalised based on an individual’s unique genetic traits rather than a one-size-fits-all approach for the entire patient population. Indeed, genetic science is revolutionising the way we think about healthcare. For instance, many medical innovations in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer care, which would have been unthinkable merely a decade ago, could emerge.
We are undoubtedly standing at an important juncture in the history of healthcare, as every discovery in our understanding of genomics brings us closer to precision medicine. The combination of rapidly declining genome sequencing costs with ever-stronger computing power also means that we will not only be able to understand the human genetic code like never before, but we will also be better prepared for present and future health threats. While we see genomics as an integral and indispensable part of future health, we also acknowledge the risks related to the enactment of new regulations arising out of ethical and privacy considerations.
Our personal well-being is highly dependent on the state of our health. For this reason, sages of the ancient world have long taught about the importance of the art of living a balanced lifestyle that combines fitness and health with emotional well-being and relationships. Despite the passing of time since such knowledge was discovered, healthy living remains as relevant as ever for the present-day world. Due to the increasing demands of the modern way of life, however, chronic diseases and other health conditions have been on the rise. Indeed, physical and mental well-being constitute two important components of overall health. Not only can individuals be debilitated by chronic physical conditions, such as cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity due to unhealthy diets and the lack of movement, mental health can also affect them. People living better and happier will thus inevitably have profound implications for our society and economy.