- Despite increased life expectancy since the nineteenth century, progress appears to have stalled, suggesting humans' maximum lifespan is "fixed and subject to natural constraints," argued a paper published this week in Nature.
- The researchers used global demographic data to demonstrate that improvements in survival typically decline after age 100, and that the limit of the "world’s oldest person" has not increased since the 1990s, when French woman Jeanne Calment died at age 122.
- The paper suggested that even if certain aspects of aging can be controlled, there are too many factors to allow humans to realistically continue to push the boundary, arguing it would take a world population 10,000 times larger for anyone to have a shot at reaching 126 in any given year.
If a cap indeed exists in the low 120s and the bulk of the medical research and healthcare establishments accept that reasoning, it could have the potential to drive trends around end-of-life care and spending, as well as anti-aging and longevity research.
Costs around caring for the aging U.S. population are a major driving factor in increased federal healthcare spending. According to recent findings by the Congressional Budget Office, the number of people age 65 years and older has more than doubled in the past 50 years. It projected that Medicare outlays will hold steady at about 3% of GDP until 2018, and then increase annually through 2026. Retirement spending is also a factor, and as people spend more time under such programs, the implications are significant from a federal and personal financial standpoint. The idea that longevity may not continue to creep ever-upward could pose some relief, from that perspective.
As far as end-of-life care and spending, a disproportionate share of Medicare spending (25%) currently goes to beneficiaries in their last year of life due to factors including hospitalizations, post-acute care, and hospice, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation. At the same time, the average per capita spending for decedents under 65 outpaces spending for those 65 and older, it found, suggesting providers already focus more aggressive treatments on younger seniors. The idea of a longevity cap could potentially impact or ingrain such patterns.
Discussions already exist around controlling end-of-life spending, with one aspect being end-of-life and advance directive counseling, and another being movements toward increased utilization of hospice and palliative care. Managed care organizations are already expected to increase partnerships with such providers to serve the growing elderly population. If an age cap becomes a culturally accepted concept, it begs the question of whether that will further drive trends in advance directives and palliative care.
Some suggest it's impossible to make such a declaration without knowing the potential impacts of future technologies and pharmaceuticals, while others suggest that even if it is true, longevity research is still pertinent for improving the lives of those just trying to survive comfortably until their natural limit.