Senolytics and the Search for Optimized Aging

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Senolytics and the Search for Optimized Aging

As the Trends editors explained almost 40 years ago, the world is rapidly aging.  And the greatest challenge of the 21st century will be maximizing the productivity and quality of life of older people.

Globally, the number of older persons is growing faster than the number of people in all younger age groups, according to the United Nations.  In 1980, children aged 0-to-9 years old outnumbered persons aged 60 years or over by 1.1 billion versus 400 million.  But by 2030, the global population of older persons is expected to have surpassed that of children under age 10 by 1.41 billion versus 1.35 billion.  The projections also indicate that by 2050 there will be 100 million more older persons (aged 60 or over) than adolescents and youth (at ages 10-to-24 years old).

Proportionately, the number of people at very advanced ages is increasing even more rapidly.  For example, the global population aged 80 years or over is projected to triple between 2017 and 2050, increasing from 137 million to 425 million.  In most countries, the growth in the absolute number of older persons will occur in a context of low or declining fertility, leading to increasing shares of older persons in the population.  In 2017, one in eight people worldwide was aged 60 or over. In 2050, older persons are projected to account for one in five people globally.  Although the process of population aging is most advanced in Japan, Europe and Northern America, where more than one in five persons was aged 60 or over in 2017, the populations of other regions are growing older as well. In 2050, older persons are expected to account for 35 per cent of the population in Europe, 28 per cent in North America, 25 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 24 per cent in Asia, 23 per cent in Oceania and 9 per cent in Africa.

Several technological and behavioral factors have converged over the past century to shape the emerging age demographic:

  • First, medicine has dramatically increased average life spans, primarily by reducing infectious disease, improving diet, and treating injuries.
  • Second, agricultural productivity has improved reducing malnutrition.
  • Third, the move to urban centers and into information-intensive jobs has enabled older people to economically contribute longer, while making children more of an economic burden. And,
  • Fourth, family planning (whether voluntary or coerced) has created a Demographic Winter, where fertility rates in most OECD countries as well as China have fallen well below replacement levels.

The result is more older people and fewer younger ones...

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