Our ageing population is growing exponentially, with over 65-year-olds expected to make up a quarter of the community within the next few decades; in this article, we will evaluate how we have managed to increase our life expectancy, what the future be like, and how our needs will change.
Advances in medicine
The advancements achieved in medicine in the past century have been astonishing, from the country-wide use of vaccinations (though first developed by Edward Jenner in 1796) to the incredible emergence of screening and diagnostic technology.
We can now treat and prevent disease and illness before it has even begun to cause deterioration within the body. In addition to this, the technology has become available for medical professionals to share knowledge across the globe – leading to previously unthinkable possibilities of growth and communication within the pharmaceutical sector. Data sharing has been credited to be one of the most influential markers in the advances of medicine within the last few decades and will continue to provide an essential role in the future. Because of this, in partnership with the increase in medical knowledge, learning and technology, data sharing means that there are more cures and treatments available than ever before and medical professionals are more aware of the symptoms of uncommon and rare illnesses. The National Health Service has also played a vital role in ensuring that healthcare is provided across all communities and has helped to democratise healthcare, making it available to those who may not have been able to afford it otherwise.
Attitudes towards health have been changing, and with new research emerging every day, we are armed with the knowledge to care for ourselves and our families better. We now know the effects that diet can have on the body and are often offered better choices in regards to fat, sugar and salt intakes. Nutritional information is currently available on most packaging so that we are more easily able to make comparisons and better choices about the food we buy, and inevitably put into our bodies. We also know more information about alcohol and smoking, which was not available to previous generations, allowing us to make informed choices and understand the consequences of how it will affect us both physically and mentally. There are even laws in place to prevent people from smoking in public areas, allowing us to thoroughly make our own decisions about whether to smoke or not, after the dangers of second-hand smoking were released – showing that it can increase our risk of lung cancer by 30% and perpetuate a number of other negative health issues. Just like with diet, we now know a lot more about how exercise and fitness can improve our health and wellbeing. Access to this type of research has allowed us to make confident decisions and take control of our health. Furthermore, we also know the importance of well-maintained hygiene and how diseases can be spread; this has caused many positive changes both in the workplace and our home lives, where we are able to better protect ourselves and our families from harmful viruses and bacteria by using high-quality cleaning products, soaps and antibacterial agents.
Advancements in technology
Some may say that science and technology have almost entirely powered our extended lifespan. Nobel Prize-winning American economist Robert Fogel referred to the phenomenon as Technophysio evolution – or evolution prompted by technological advancements rather than natural selection. We use technology in almost all aspects of our everyday lives, whether that’s in our kitchens to ensure our food is cooked correctly and free from bacteria to medical diagnostic technology in our hospitals to ensure our health is the best it can be. In addition to these external pieces of technology, which have managed to improve our lifespan and quality of life massively over the past few years, we have also incorporated technology to help us internally. Pacemakers ensure that the hearts of many people continue beating at the right rhythm to promote healthy blood flow. Internal defibrillators can shock hearts in the event of a life-threatening emergency and we also have dialysis equipment able to perform kidney function. However potentially the most significant tool in improving our health and wellbeing has been the internet. The internet has provided anyone with access to a whole world of information and support for their health. From learning about diet, fitness and preventative care to giving us the option to research our own treatments, first aid and other alternatives. From how far we’ve come in such a short blip of human existence, its hard to tell where we will be in a few decades – let alone the next century. From 3D printed organs to cryogenics, new advancements are emerging every day with endless possibilities to prolong life and improve health.