There is a growing determination in some portions of the aging research community to obtain a formal classification of aging as a disease. This means different things to different people, and there are numerous independent regulatory or classification bodies involved in defining and declaring disease. It is a highly politicized process in wealthier regions of the world, tending to involve lining the pockets of politicians and, indirectly, their appointees and allies in regulatory agencies. It takes years to make any sort of progress - just look at ongoing efforts to have the age-related muscle loss known as sarcopenia defined as a disease rather than normal aging in the US regulatory system. That has been underway for nearly as long as I've been an advocate for this cause, with no end in sight, and at a cost of untold millions and wasted years that could have been spent on getting a treatment working and out there in the clinics.
The incentive is there for scientists and research institutions to have aging declared a disease because that opens doors to funding sources, and permits treatments aimed at controlling aging to run through the regulatory process at all. The FDA does not consider aging to be a medical condition at this time, and this position must change in order to allow any sort of meaningful development pipeline to form: everything that happens in cutting edge aging research today happens despite the fact that no-one is permitted to go out there and directly commercialize a treatment. As you might imagine that has a considerable damping effect on funding. I'd prefer change to involve tearing down the FDA and all similar bodies, but most people just want to see a little adjustment: to petition the powers that be until they grudging allow you just that little extra degree of freedom within the straitjacket.
Whether or not aging is a disease from the point of medical philosophy or dictionary definition is somewhat beside the point in comparison to issues of money and issues of freedom to act within the regulatory system. Not that this stops people from pouring on the philosophy, and any other argument to hand, in service of trying to change present regulation:
Is aging a disease? Traditionally, aging has been viewed as a natural process and consequently not a disease. This division may have, in part, originated as a way of establishing aging as an independent discipline of research. Some authors go as far as to create a division between intrinsic aging processes (termed primary aging) and diseases of old age (termed secondary aging). For example, photoaging, the accelerated deterioration of skin as a result of UV rays during one's lifetime, is considered by dermatologists as a condition leading to pathology. In contrast, chronological skin aging is accepted as the norm. As well as being seen as separate from disease, aging is looked at as a risk factor for developing disease. Interestingly, the so-called "accelerated aging diseases" such as Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, Werner syndrome and Dyskeratosis Congenita are considered diseases. Progeria is considered a disease but yet when the same changes happen to an individual 80 years older they are considered normal and unworthy of medical attention.
Additionally, normal in a medical context is generally defined as no deviation outside of the normal reference range for that age and sex, whilst diseases are seen as deviation from this normal condition for that age and sex. Thus someone with a blood pressure of below 120/80 is seen as normal while a blood pressure above 140/90 or below 85/55 is abnormal and a sign of disease. The stratification of reference ranges for age is needed to distinguish fully developed adults from still developing children. Aging as the passage of time and the accumulation of wisdom is not undesirable; the physiological decline that accompanies the process, however, most certainly is.
Whilst aging is a nearly universal occurrence, it should be noted that other medical problems such as muscle wastage leading to sarcopenia, reduction in bone mass and density leading to osteoporosis, increased arterial hardening resulting in hypertension, atherosclerosis, and brain tissue atrophy resulting in dementia, all of which are nearly universal in humans, are classified as diseases in need of medical interventions. Also, autopsy studies indicate that amyloidosis may be almost universal in elderly people and, in autopsies performed by the Supercentenarian Research Foundation (SRF), amyloidosis has been identified as the cause of death in about 70% of people over 110 years of age. Should we remove amyloidosis from medical textbooks as an age-related disease just because it happens to occur in almost every elderly subject?
While most still seem to consider aging not to be a disease others have started to question this position. Some have argued that aging should be considered a disease, a syndrome or a 'disease complex'. Whilst many aging researchers have openly declared that the universality of the aging process means it is not a disease, aging fits the given medical definition of a disease. There is no disputing the fact that aging is a 'harmful abnormality of bodily structure and function'. What is becoming increasingly clear is that aging also has specific causes, each of which can be reduced to a cellular and molecular level, and recognisable signs and symptoms.
Researchers write: "In short, not only does aging lend itself to be characterised as a disease, but the advantage of doing so is that, by rejecting the seeming fatalism of the label 'natural', it better legitimises medical efforts to either eliminate it or get rid of those undesirable conditions associated with it". The goal of biomedical research is to allow people to be "as healthy as possible for as long as possible". Having aging recognized as a disease would stimulate grant-awarding bodies to increase funding for aging research and develop biomedical procedures to slow the aging process. Indeed, others have stated that calling something a disease involves the commitment to medical intervention. Furthermore, having a condition recognized as a disease is important to have treatment refunded by health insurance providers.
We believe that aging should be seen as a disease, albeit as a disease that is a universal and multisystemic process. Our current healthcare system doesn't recognize the aging process as the underlying cause for the chronic diseases affecting the elderly. As such, the system is setup to be reactionary and therefore about 32% of total Medicare spending in the Unites States goes to the last two years of life of patients with chronic illnesses, without any significant improvement to their quality of life. Our current healthcare system is untenable both from a financial and health and well-being prospective. Even minimal attenuation of the aging process by accelerating research on aging, and development of geroprotective drugs and regenerative medicines, can greatly improve the health and wellbeing of older individuals, and rescue our failing healthcare system.