Summit on Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity
New consensus study report is a call to action and provides paths for all to thrive in 2050.
The US National Academy of Medicine (NAM) held the Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity Report – Implementation in Asia Summit in Singapore. The Singapore Summit is the first NAM dissemination event since the release of the Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity report in early June 2022. Report commissioners gathered to discuss key findings and recommendations from the report. This marks the start of the NAM’s regionally-focused dissemination efforts and is co-hosted by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the National University Health System (NUHS), the National University of Singapore (NUS), and the Tsao Foundation.
Like climate change, how we act now for an unprecedented demographic change will determine whether we have an optimistic future, or the pessimistic one that many forecast. The delegates included members of an international commission appointed by NAM, leading global thought leaders, as well as key decision makers from academia, healthcare organisations, industry players, government, media, civic societies, local, regional and global non-profit sectors that have active roles in shaping approaches towards global ageing and healthy longevity.
All countries’ populations are ageing, and some are ageing rapidly. In recent decades, the population of people over age 65 has grown more quickly than other age groups due to longer life spans and declining birth rates. This growth is expected to continue into the future.
Between 2000 and 2019, the human lifespan increased globally, with low-and-middle income countries seeing life expectancy gains. But the number of years in good health has stayed roughly the same, so people are living more years in poor health.
Recognising the need to take action in the face of demographic change, NAM formed an international commission of experts from multiple domains to develop an evidence-based roadmap to advance healthy longevity around the globe. The commission defines healthy longevity as the state in which years in good health approach the biological lifespan, with physical, cognitive, and social functioning – enabling well-being across populations. According to World Health Organization, health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.
With an all-of-society effort to improve healthy longevity, based on the evidence, the commission concluded that the future of ageing societies could be optimistic, with older people contributing to family, community, and society, and living lives with meaning and purpose. Societies could thrive with strong social compact, intergenerational cohesion, and strong economies with plentiful work and volunteer roles for people of all ages.
Evidence suggests that the cost of inaction is more people living in poor health, suffering, and dependence; financial burdens on individuals and families; lost opportunities for people of all ages; gross domestic product that is lower than it would be with better health and full inclusion of older people; and increased fiscal burdens on government for supporting unnecessarily high levels of illness and disability.
The commission identified principles for achieving healthy longevity as:
- People of all ages, particularly older adults, reach their full potential to live life with good health, function, meaning, purpose and dignity.
- Societies enable the best health and functioning that individuals at all ages are capable of attaining.
- Societies reduce disparities and enhance equity within and among countries to realise the well-being and contributions of all people, including those of older ages.
- The human, financial, and social capital of older people is realised for the benefit of all of society.
- Societies use data and meaningful metrics to track the achievement of outcomes and guide decision-making.
The commission found substantial evidence to support a vision of healthy longevity in 2050. It identified four domains critical to achieving the vision – work, volunteering and education; social infrastructure; physical environment; and public health, health systems and long-term care. The commission selected key targets based on actionability, impact on people across the life course, equity and importance to improving healthy longevity in the long term and tackling needs of older people in the near term, stressing that these targets are not the only areas in need of attention, but rather starting points. Cross cutting themes include the need for a life-course approach, equity, social cohesion accompanied by a strong social compact, the role of science and technology, and the need to measure progress toward the goals of healthy longevity.
“By increasing healthy longevity, societies can tap into the opportunities offered by people as they live a full and robust life, being and doing what they value,” said Professor John Eu-Li Wong, co-chair, Commission for a Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity, US National Academy of Medicine, and senior vice-president (Health Innovation & Translation), National University of Singapore. “In 2050, the commission envisions a world in which older adults, with good health and function, engage in relationships, their communities, families, and the economy such that extraordinary amounts of social and human capital are enabled by the collective impact of this engagement.”
Every country will have a different path to healthy longevity within its own context. No single approach will work globally. To initiate needed change, governments will need to establish calls to action to develop and implement data-driven all-of-society plans for building the organisations and social infrastructure needed to enable healthy longevity.
Lives of good health, function, meaning, purpose, and dignity are achievable – now is the time to begin working toward this better future for all.
To download the report, go to: https://nap.nationalacademies.org/catalog/26144/global-roadmap-for-healthy-longevity.
SIDEBOX: A view from Singapore
Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies:, was the guest-of-honour at the event. He noted a number of points in his speech:
- More than half of children born in developed countries will live to 100 – “ The ‘100-year life’ may well become the norm. This would be a dramatic development, and has profound implications. Societies and individuals will have to increasingly confront the challenge of how to sustainably fund their healthcare and retirement needs. More broadly, the current life structure that is built around the three stages of education, work, and retirement will have to be reimagined. Some have suggested the need to move towards a multi-stage life, with transitions and breaks in between.”
- Unleashing the potential of people to contribute as they age – “Today, many still view ageing through the lens of a ‘silver tsunami’ that will impose a crippling burden on society. This is a very limiting mindset. Instead, as your report rightly puts it, it is critical that we unlock the ‘longevity dividend”, which will in turn benefit people of all ages and societies around the globe.
- Change in mindsets – “Take employers for instance: It is an unfortunate reality that ageist practices and attitudes are still commonplace. Legislation can help, but the more fundamental solution is for employers to recognise that offering opportunities to older workers is not charity. Rather, it is good for their companies. Research has found that older people in multigenerational teams tend to boost the productivity of those around them, and such mixed teams perform better than single-generation ones. Older workers can also guide and mentor younger or less experienced colleagues.” DPM added: “Mindset change is always difficult. But it is possible. Just look at how female workforce participation has improved in most societies. It would have been unthinkable just a generation or two ago. I am hopeful that in the years ahead, we will similarly be able to tap on the full potential of seniors to contribute to our communities.”
- Living in good health – “Over the last two decades, even though lifespans have increased globally, the years in good health have stayed roughly the same. This means that people are living more years in poor health. In Singapore, we have managed to make some progress on this challenge. Our Health-Adjusted Life Expectancy, or HALE, is the highest in the world. It has increased from 66.6 years for the 1990 cohort to 73.9 years in 2019. But this is an ongoing effort, and we can and must do more to improve HALE and alleviate the stresses around the last years of life.”
- Loneliness – “… the number of elderly living alone in Singapore has doubled over the last ten years, although the absolute numbers remain small. This is not surprising, with a growing elderly population, and changing family structures and living arrangements. But this gives rise to greater concern over loneliness, although loneliness is not limited to elderly staying alone. Loneliness has a significant impact on life and health expectancy. A study by Duke-NUS and Nihon University found that lonely elder adults in Singapore and Japan lived at least three years less than their peers. They also spent less of their remaining life in good health or being active. As your report rightly points out, health is not just about healthcare, but a state of physical, mental, and social well-being.”
DPM added: “We need to therefore take a holistic and human-centric approach in promoting the well-being of the elderly. … It is not just about infrastructure. It is also about strengthening the social and community support for our seniors.”
(** PHOTO CREDITS: National University Health System)