The Real Cost of Aging

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By Brian Kennedy, Ph.D.

Because of my childhood, I started focusing on the science of aging.  I had no siblings, and everyone in my family lived forever, so I was around a lot of older people. I was able to watch them age—I saw people age in a very healthy way, and who were very happy throughout the vast majority of their life.  I also saw others in my family that had many kinds of health problems.  I just wondered, what makes some people do so well when they get older, and what makes other people suffer?

When it comes to longevity, there are essentially two issues. One is lifespan, which everyone understands as how long we live. The other is healthspan, which essentially is how long we stay healthy, free of disease, active and functional. The problem is, we’ve been extending lifespan over the last century—people are living a lot longer now than they were a hundred years ago. But we’re not making healthspan go up as fast. We’re keeping people alive longer, but we’re keeping them sick longer, too.  

As we age, the risk of any number of Age Related Diseases (ARDs) increases.  ARDs take their toll on our enjoyment of life, our independence, our ability to keep a quality job, and our very ability to function in society. Problems with vision, hearing difficulty, body composition changes (loss of muscle), and compromised immunity, complicates our life and social interactions as we get older. 

High blood pressure (hypertension), is the most common condition adults suffer, and cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death. Inflammation, caused in part by senescent cells, can lead to a decrease in joint functionality and bone strength, contributing to an increased incidence of falling and other indications of frailty.

The financial costs of aging are considerable as well, with the majority of medical expenses occurring in our last years.  When you consider all the hospitalizations, medicines, and treatments we must receive, it is very helpful for families to know and discuss ahead of time, what could be coming down the pike when we are seniors. 

According to the federal government, the national average costs for long-term care in the United States (in 2016):

  • $20 per hour hiring a health aide
  • $20 per hour for homemaker services
  • Nearly $70 per day for services in an adult day health care center
  • Over $3,600 per month for care in an assisted living facility (for a one-bedroom unit)
  • Nearly $7,000 per month for a semi-private room in a nursing home  
  • Nearly $8,000 per month for a private room in a nursing home  

The true cost of long-term care depends on the type and duration of where in the country you live, the amount and type of care you need, as well as the healthcare provider used.  Beyond the most basic charges, there are typically extra fees for services made available beyond the basics of room, food and housekeeping. 

(Source: https://longtermcare.acl.gov/costs-how-to-pay/costs-of-care.html


So what can be done? Here are few recommendations:

  1. Plan in advance, before you or your loved ones start losing your health. It is very difficult to make decisions on where and how we want to live when we are ill. 
  2. Know the financial impact and levels of service of assisted living or home care in your area.  Learn the services (and any limitations) that your insurance company or government can provide, beforethey’re needed.
  3. Having some sort of sustainable cardiovascular exercise and resistance training program will keep you healthier and living longer on average. 
  4. Typically, we are overworked and have too many things going on in our lives. Whenever possible, limit stress and get enough sleep!  
  5. Depression is a common factor during aging. You can help offset that with strategies including maintaining your social connections, mindfulness and brain engagement. Push your brian into foreign territory and learn a new language or become computer literate. You will be surprised what you are capable of and the confidence that meeting a new challenge can provide.
  6. We’ve known that reducing calorie intake extends lifespan. We believe the reason it does this is it taps into mechanisms which tell our cells to be resistant to stress. The trouble is, few of us are actually limiting what we eat—the FDA says the average American male is eating 3,900 calories per day, when the recommendation is supposed to be 2,500 calories per day. Reducing your calorie intake down to the FDA recommended levels will likely be beneficial and consider time-restricted feeding – eating all of your food within a window of 12, or even 8, hours.
  7. Consider taking a supplement that has shown to extend healthspan in mouse studies.  For example, supplements with sustained-release Calcium-AKG. We conducted research in my labs at both the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the National University of Singapore.  The work shows that Calcium Alpha-Ketoglutarate works on multiple known pathways of aging. In our study, we showed a modest improvement lifespan (12%), but more importantly, we showed Ca-AKG decreased frailty.  Because mice and humans share very similar DNA, and age in very similar ways, we are optimistic these results can translate into humans. A copy of our study and findings can be found here: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/779157v1
  8. Discuss openly with your doctor and other family members about the options that work best for you. Again, don’t put off these discussions until the last minute. 

While science is making great advances on understanding the true causes aging, knowledge is key to minimizing the impact of getting older.  By planning ahead and making smart decisions on our health right now, we can minimize the impact of what happens in the days ahead.

About Brian Kennedy, Ph.D.

Brian K. Kennedy, Ph.D., has an international reputation for his work in the basic biology of aging. He became the Buck Institute’s second CEO in July 2010, coming from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he served in the Department of Biochemistry. He is currently a professor and Director of the Centre for Healthy Ageing at the National University of Singapore. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Kennedy has published more than 190 manuscripts in prestigious journals including Cell, Nature, Science, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He is a Co-Editor-In-Chief of the journal Aging Cell and is commonly called upon to review grants for the NIH and other agencies. He currently serves as the Chief Science Officer at Ponce De Leon Health. You can learn about some of his research at www.Rejuvant.com.

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