“Healthy aging” is a good way to describe what we all want from life as we get older. We don’t want to be old for longer. We want to be – or at least feel – young for longer. Sure, we want longevity. As long as it comes with good physical, psychological and social health.
My New Old Self decided to check out the 2015 World Congress on Healthy Ageing. It is just one of many conferences held all over the world this year to talk about getting older. If you’re wondering where this one took place, there’s a clue in the spelling. Conferences on AGING – without an E – are held in North America. If spelled with an E, as AGEING, it’s happening in the UK, Australia or any of the former Commonwealth countries which use British spelling, e.g. English-speaking African countries. This conference on Healthy Ageing was held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
With baby boomers driving the largest wave of aging/ageing in world history, there is a lot of thinking going on about how getting older will change in the future. The recent get-together in Africa featured an address by a “futurist” who used a thought-provoking statistic to illustrate the recent sharp rise in longevity: more than half of all the people who have turned 80 in the history of the world are still alive. I don’t know where this factoid takes you but it’s kind of weird to think about.
Graeme Codrington identified a major future trend which he predicts will support longevity and healthy aging: the 3D printer. In the future when you need a hip replaced you may be able to print out a new one. An American chicken is getting a new leg printed out. A South African goose named Ozzie has already been given a prosthetic leg courtesy of a 3D printer.
With this lucky duck managing to hobble on his new leg, humans may be next. Especially old ones with gammy pins. Other future medical uses of 3D printers include sending a blood sample for analysis, then getting instructions to print out the medicines you are prescribed. “Don’t try this at home!” will be an outdated caveat, I thought. Until I learned of the potential health risks and lack of safety features in operating 3D printers.
Loading raw materials and additives into the machine, sieving materials, cleaning machinery and finishing off manufactured products can expose workers to a variety of hazardous chemical substances. These include silica sand, chromite, nylon, resins and titanium. Workers can inhale the substances and powder deposits in their eyes and on their skin can lead to irritation and allergic reactions to some of the raw materials and additives.
– Sonette du Plessis, Northwest University, South Africa
Another technological advance seen as a big driver of future aging trends is the much heralded Internet of Things. Whereby things from your car to your refrigerator can be connected to the internet, then sensed and controlled remotely. Instead of a light bulb burning out and leaving you in the dark – something dreaded by older people who fear climbing a ladder to replace it – the light bulb will email you to tell you it’s going to burn out soon. Your plants may not bother messaging you when they need water. Because your whole garden could be linked into a sprinkler system that takes its cue from the weather forecast.
The Net o’ T’ings is seen as possibly assisting older people in the future by embedding chips in aging bodies to give proactive feedback to prevent and control medical emergencies. But several events in the week after this prediction was made reveal a disturbing vulnerability: to hackers. Researchers did some test hacking on an internet-connected radio system in a Chrysler car. They remotely commandeered it to get stuck in a ditch. A fix was eventually found – but that meant recalling 1.4-million cars. Many more such internet-linked systems have been sold to other manufacturers, so there will be a lot more fixes and recalls.
Another prediction is that this new use of the internet will be a boon to older people’s health care. Except that the US Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to hospitals to immediately stop using another new net link-up. The problem with this computerized pump to deliver medication into the bloodstream is, again, “cybersecurity vulnerability”.
I don’t regret that I won’t live long enough into the future to have my life run by the Internet of Things. Anyway, enough about tech-driven trends that could affect aging in future. What about plain old social trends around getting older?
The Healthy Aging conference endorsed the widely held prediction that since so many more people will be living into their 80s and 90s, the age of retirement will go up and older people will launch second careers. Unfortunately this trend will follow recent changes in the working world that have replaced full-time employment with contract work.
Codrington suggested that in the future older people may be able to get contracts to work in – wait for it – call centres. He did some call centre consulting work that showed that older people are often better at these jobs than younger ones. But a recent survey by the International Customer Management Institute showed that most call center workers experience high levels of daily stress. Be warned: websites like RecruitMyMom.co.za and SeniorJobBank.org are ready to match you with this kind of nerve-wracking work that the youth is abandoning.
I am not sorry to miss out on the long-term future if its reward is a job at a call centre in my dotage. It’s bad enough when they call me.