Longer lives with disabilities: The costs of living longer

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Longer lives with disabilities: The costs of living longer

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Longer lives with disabilities: The costs of living longer

Subheading text
Average global life spans have steadily increased, but so have disabilities across different age groups.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • May 26, 2023

    Insight highlights

    Despite increased life expectancy, studies show that Americans are living longer but experiencing poorer health, with a higher proportion of their lives spent dealing with disabilities or health concerns. While there have been reductions in disability rates among those over 65, disease- and accident-related disabilities continue to rise globally. This trend necessitates a reevaluation of how we measure the quality of life, as longevity alone does not guarantee a good quality of life. With the aging population and increasing numbers of seniors with disabilities, it is crucial for governments to invest in inclusive and accessible community and healthcare services to address their needs. 

    Longer lives with disability context

    According to a 2016 University of Southern California (USC) study, Americans live longer but have poorer health. The researchers looked at life expectancy trends and disability rates from 1970 to 2010. They discovered that while men’s and women’s average total lifespan increased during that period, so did the proportionate time spent living with some form of disability. 

    The study found that living a longer life does not always mean being healthier. In fact, most age groups live with some form of disability or health concern well into their older years. According to the research’s lead author Eileen Crimmins, a USC gerontology professor, there are some signs that the senior Baby Boomers aren’t seeing improvements in health akin to older groups who preceded them. The only group that saw a reduction in disability was those over 65.

    And disease- and accident-related disabilities continue to rise. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) researched the global state of life expectancy from 2000 to 2019. The findings discovered a reduction in deaths from infectious diseases worldwide (though they are still considered significant problems in low- and middle-income countries). For example, tuberculosis fatalities decreased by 30 percent worldwide. Furthermore, researchers found that life expectancy has increased over the years, with an average of more than 73 years in 2019. However, people spent the extra years in poor health. Injuries are also a significant cause of disability and death. In the African region alone, road traffic injury-related deaths have increased by 50 percent since 2000, while healthy life-years lost have also risen significantly. A 40-percent increase in both metrics was observed in the Eastern Mediterranean region. On a global scale, 75 percent of all road traffic injury fatalities are male.

    Disruptive impact

    Based on the 2021 UN research report, a need has been identified for a better method to gauge the quality of life aside from longevity. While there are more long-term care facilities, particularly in advanced economies, residents don’t necessarily have a good quality of life. Additionally, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these hospices became death traps as the virus quickly spread among residents.

    As life expectancy increases, seniors with disabilities will become a significant focal point in community and healthcare service development. This trend highlights the need for governments to take a longer-term approach when investing in their planning, design, and construction of healthcare facilities for seniors, especially to ensure environmental inclusiveness and accessibility. 

    Implications of longer lives with disabilities 

    Wider implications of longer lives with disabilities may include: 

    • Biotech firms investing in maintenance medicines and therapies for people with disabilities.
    • More funding for drug discoveries that can slow down and even reverse the effects of aging.
    • Gen X and millennial populations experiencing increased financial difficulties as they become primary caregivers for their parents for extended periods. These obligations may decrease the spending power and economic mobility of these younger generations.
    • Increasing demand for hospices and long-term care senior facilities that can meet the needs of disabled patients. However, there might be labor shortages as global populations continue to decline and grow older.
    • Countries with declining populations investing heavily in robotics and other automated systems to care for their senior citizens and people living with disabilities.
    • People’s increasing interest in healthy lifestyles and habits, including monitoring their health stats through smart wearables.

    Questions to consider

    • How is your country establishing programs to provide care for citizens with disabilities?
    • What are the other challenges of an aging population, especially aging with disabilities?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: