A recent paper provides data to show that increases in human life expectancy, so far an incidental byproduct of improvements in medical technology and lifestyle choices rather than any deliberate attempt to tackle aging, are accompanied by an increase in years spent free from disability in later life. The current slow upward trend will soon enough become a thing of the past, as the research community is presently transitioning from ignoring aging, despite it being the cause of all age-related death and disease, to attempting to intervene in processes of aging. As this approach gains wider support, a much faster upward trend in life expectancy will take hold, characterized by leaps and bounds as new technologies are introduced, such as SENS rejuvenation therapies that repair the cell and tissue damage that lies at the root of aging.
A new study that shows that the increase in life expectancy in the past two decades has been accompanied by an even greater increase in life years free of disability, thanks in large measure to improvements in cardio-vascular health and declines in vision problems. "This suggests, for the typical person, there really is an act beyond work - that once you reach age 65, you can likely look forward to years of healthy activity. So this is good news for the vast bulk of people who can now look forward to healthier, disability free life, but it's also good news for medical care because it demonstrates the value of medical spending."
The study found that in 1992, the life expectancy of the average 65-year-old was 17.5 years, 8.9 of which were free from disability. By 2008, total life expectancy has risen to 18.8 years. In addition to the overall increase, the number of disability-free years increased, from 8.9 to 10.7, while the number of disabled years fell, from 8.6 to 8.1. Driving those changes are two major treatment areas - cardiovascular health and vision treatment. "There has been an incredibly dramatic decline in deaths and disabilities from heart disease and heart failure. "Some of it is the result of people smoking less, and better diet, but we estimate that as much as half of the improvement is because of medical care, especially statin drug treatment, which is both preventing heart attacks and improving people's recovery." Much of the improvement in vision health can be summed up in a single word - cataracts. "In the past, cataract surgery was very lengthy and technically difficult. That same surgery today can be done in an outpatient setting, so that complications and disability are significantly ameliorated. It used to be that when you turn 70, your occupation became managing your health. Now you can increasingly just live your life."