Shahid Akhter, Editor-in-Chief, ETHealthworld, spoke with Darshit PatelFounder, Scientific Director, Decode Age, to understand the challenges associated with increasing population aging and the way forward.
Ageing: global trends
When we talk about aging for an individual, it’s completely subjective. The real problem comes when we talk about the aging of the population. You see, many developed countries are facing this crisis quite imminently, for example Japan. Japan currently has a very large elderly population, and they face the difficulties that come with it, such as health charges or the economic crisis. Likewise, the United States is preparing for it, drawing inspiration from the example of Japan. You can also find countries like the UK having a longevity advisory committee within their government, as they also see aging as a looming issue for their demographics. You can see Israel, you can also see Asia. There’s Singapore, there’s Hong Kong, and there’s South Korea which is actively taking steps to manage its aging population and also has programs for elderly care. Why are they looking forward to this? Because they see that in the next 15 to 20 years, when the entire population ages and a higher percentage of the population will be unable to work, the burden will fall on the younger population. This is the reason why these countries are fully dedicated to solving this problem in their respective geographical areas.
Geriatric Care: Challenges in India
Now, extrapolating to what we have seen in the global world and comparing it to India, we see some very important trends. The first is that the lifespan of the Indians continues to increase. If we look from the 1960s to 2020, we have gone from an average lifespan of 40 years to an average lifespan of 69 years. At the same time, our fertility rates have gone from 6 children per fertile woman to less than 2 children per fertile woman today. When you put the two graphs together, what do you see? You will see that in the near future India’s median which is currently 28 will increase to 42 by 2040. When this happens, a country will have more and more people facing chronic diseases. The health care burden will obviously increase.
The second problem that goes with it is the mandatory retirement age that we have in India. Imagine if the average age of an Indian is 42 and if above 58 most people are retired, that means most people are dependent on the younger population.
In demographics, we talk about dependency ratio and it is expected to increase in India. All of this combined is going to create a scenario where there will be both health and economic issues, as well as social and welfare issues. We should have already started preparing for this, but we haven’t because we can see specific doctors who look after older generations in a country like gerontologists, even research that helps older people like bio-gerontologists, and then there’s Ace Technology, where they’re developing gadgets, apps, and digital technologies that can help seniors. In all three sectors, we are definitely behind. While we’re at it, there’s one very important aspect that we overlook: longevity studies. The art and science of keeping people more vital and healthy is needed over time so that they can contribute in any capacity. If we don’t focus on that today, we will certainly see what other countries have already seen. I think it’s time to learn rather than just watch.
Burden of chronic disease
Our average lifespan is increasing in India, at the same time there is a significant rate of chronic disease incidents which are also increasing. This is worrying because today in India the average age to get hypertension is around 28, the average age to get diabetes is around 36 and the average age to get a disease heart rate that can stay with you for life is around 40 to 42 years. When these two diseases strike at such a young age, health, or health span, will decline, and no one will talk about life span because there will be no health left in life.
Since we are already talking about the aging population and geriatric issues in India, let me touch on or invent a very important metaphor that has recently been used to describe this situation, namely the Silver Tsunami. This may sound ominous, but it is simply a large number of elderly people dominating a country’s population, resulting in the inevitable and worst-case demographic scenario, which includes chronic illnesses, a high health and economic stress. These three terms, together with an aging population, make up what a Silver Tsunami is. It’s just a massive influx of old people into the country, taking their toll and becoming dependent.
Decoding Age: Travel
The Decode Age story begins a little way back in 2018 when I was in Edinburgh and listened to this talk by Noble Prize winner Dr Elizabeth Blackburn. The talk was about telomeres for which it won the Noble Prize itself, and telomeres sparked my interest in longevity. These little thread-like structures at the end of DNA decide how long your cell will live and how long and healthy it will live.
Well, if it can happen at the cellular level, I thought it could happen at the organism level as well. As I got deeper and deeper into longevity, I realized there was life beyond telomeres; there is mitochondrial dysfunction, genomic instability and epigenetics. All of these elements are involved. People are doing what they can to prevent chronic disease and aging itself. Would you believe me when I say that most scientists today view aging as a disease? When you start looking at something as a disease, you start to cure it or prevent it, and that’s what the world does. This is what India needed. So when I came back during the pandemic, it was hard for an Indian to understand, but it is our job to make it clear to them because it will be one of the most beneficial steps they will take in their life.
Our products are based on bio-enzymes. Just imagine that you have something in your body that your body produced for the first 20-25 years, but now it can’t and that’s why you feel the effects of aging. If we just restore them to your body, you’ll start to feel the way you did for the first 25 years of your life, and that’s what clinical trials have also revealed.
Decoding Age: Future Plans
While the current products we offer are purely intended to prevent the aging process or rather to slow it down, the next steps will be to integrate more and more P. In other words, the first P was preventive and the second P will be predictive . For a healthy lifespan and longevity or healthy aging, it’s not just about preventing, it’s first about predicting what’s going on in your body, how these diseases develop , which is wrong at the cellular level. For this, you need a predictive test.
Our first, which is the Gut Micro Bio, will be based solely on all organisms living inside your gut. As we achieve this with prediction, we need the third P on your side, and that is participation. Individuals need to understand what they are doing to their biology in everyday situations rather than simply reading and dispensing prescriptions to pharmacies they cannot read. So the third P, Participation, is where we need you, and when the three Ps come together, we come to the last P, Personalization. This is the preventive, predictive and participatory phase, which culminates in personalization, in which we organize plans for you based on your biological goals and the health and length of time you want to live in your life.