Age may not be such an issue in future elections

Age may not be such an issue in future elections

Saudi Arabia has allocated SR1.5 billion ($400 million) to an organization called the Hevolution Foundation. (X/@hevolution_f)
Saudi Arabia has allocated SR1.5 billion ($400 million) to an organization called the Hevolution Foundation. (X/@hevolution_f)
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When The Beatles sang “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four” way back in 1967, global average life expectancy at birth stood at 57, so 64 did sound like a ripe old age. But today, with life expectancy worldwide having crossed the 72 mark and rising every year, nobody would begrudge surviving ex-Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr the right to release an updated version of the hit song, with the word “sixty-four” replaced by “eighty-four,” perhaps.

In an ideal world, everybody would age like Sir Paul and Sir Ringo, 82 and 83 years old respectively — still touring, holding sold-out concerts and writing books. But in the real world, as the much talked about June 27 US presidential debate demonstrated, not all octogenarians are equal when it comes to mental fitness and cognitive abilities. And, for all the political hoopla, President Joe Biden is hardly the only 81-year-old who is publicly experiencing memory lapses or tripping and falling at graduation ceremonies.

Whatever the reasons behind the different rates of biological aging and chronological aging, the good news is that humanity is not content with just extending life expectancy. Billions of dollars are being poured into the science of longevity, with the goal of helping people across the world to live healthier for longer. The fruits of these investments may not materialize quickly enough for Biden or his 78-year-old rival Donald Trump to benefit, but both candidates’ grandchildren have a much better chance of enjoying good health and mobility well into their 80s.
The longevity industry is witnessing an influx of funding from various sources, including private investors, academic institutions and governments, as a growing number of companies and research initiatives aim to address the root causes of aging and extend healthy human lifespans.
Investments in longevity science have grown significantly over the past decade. In 2021, the sector saw a peak investment of $6.2 billion, largely driven by venture capital and private equity funding. Although 2022 experienced a slight dip to $5.2 billion, it remained significantly higher compared with previous years. Major investments have been directed toward cellular rejuvenation, longevity discovery platforms and regenerative medicine. The funding landscape in 2023 showed continued interest, especially in late-stage venture capital deals.
For its part, Saudi Arabia has allocated SR1.5 billion ($400 million) to an organization called the Hevolution Foundation to develop new treatments for aging. This effort, in the form of research grants and early-stage biotech investments, “could dramatically expand the available global funding for research on longevity biology, which now comes mainly from the US National Institute on Aging,” The Wall Street Journal reported in August last year. The article quoted Hevolution Chief Executive Dr. Mehmood Khan as saying: “Initially, more of that money will go to research, but eventually the goal is for a roughly even split with investments into anti-aging startups.”

A graying population can enhance societal resilience and enrich communities through the contributions of its older members. 

Arnab Neil Sengupta

Established in 2018 by royal order, Hevolution is headquartered in Riyadh, with a North American hub in Boston, and it plans to expand to other locations worldwide. The organization says that, while the average lifespan in Saudi Arabia is about 74 years, the average health span is 64 — indicating a decade-long gap between life expectancy and healthy life expectancy — and many are living the final years of their lives in poor health.
Hevolution is doing its bit by aiming to increase the number of safe and effective treatments entering the market, compress the timeline of drug development using the latest tools and technologies, and increase accessibility to health span therapeutics for all.
The UAE also envisions itself as being at the regional forefront of longevity and anti-aging preventive care, with specialist centers opening to focus on healthy aging, notably the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park and Deep Knowledge Analytics’ joint venture in mapping the UAE’s longevity industry.
To be sure, the main motivation for the influx of funding into longevity science worldwide is not philanthropy but the growing healthcare needs of graying nations. Most regions of the world are experiencing some degree of population aging, though with important differences resulting from the varied pace and timing of the demographic transition.
On the one hand, lower fertility rates are reducing the proportion of younger people available to support the aging populations of most countries. On the other hand, medical advancements and improved living conditions are extending lifespans.

The Office of National Statistics in Britain predicts that a third of babies born in 2013 will reach the age of 100, while the US Census Bureau says the number of people aged over 85 will triple by 2060. At current rates, citizens aged over 50 in the Gulf Cooperation Council bloc will comprise 18.5 percent of the population by 2025, up from 14.2 percent in 2020.

Population aging in advanced countries is, of course, a profound demographic change with wide-ranging implications, requiring comprehensive strategies to address economic, healthcare and social challenges. But populations are also aging in many countries before they have achieved the desired level of wealth. For instance, both China and India are experiencing a shift in their populations toward older ages, although population aging is unfolding more gradually in India than in China and at a varied pace across states.

The disadvantages of a graying population are too numerous to enumerate in an oped. Also, an increasingly frequent criticism of older citizens in Western democracies is that they are typically more active in political processes, leading to policies that reflect their needs and interests, potentially resulting in more costly healthcare and social security systems.

On the upside, an elderly population is a valuable asset to society, and not just because of its insights, political maturity and historical perspectives that younger generations may lack. Older individuals often possess a wealth of experience and knowledge, which can be invaluable in the workforce and community settings. They can mentor younger employees, providing guidance and expertise.

Retirees also often have more time to engage in volunteer work and civic activities. This can lead to increased community involvement and support for local organizations and causes.
The elderly represent a growing consumer market with specific needs and preferences, driving the development of products and services tailored to their demographic, such as healthcare, leisure and technology solutions. Older populations tend to contribute to social stability. Areas with higher proportions of elderly individuals often experience lower crime rates and greater community cohesion. Moreover, as the number of multigenerational households increases, there are more opportunities for intergenerational learning and bonding, fostering stronger family ties and cultural continuity.
Dr. Haya bint Khaled, vice president of research at the Hevolution Foundation, was right on the money when she said: “Saudi Arabia is at a perfect moment in time to outpace future demographic challenges by investing in healthy longevity now, and to lead the world in addressing age-related diseases for the benefit of all humanity.”
Looking to the future, there are compelling reasons for every country to get the most out of their senior citizens, while in turn offering them a chance to live longer, healthier lives.

When The Beatles recorded “When I’m Sixty-Four,” it was interpreted as a charming take on aging and enduring love. Fifty-seven years on, people are still mortal and an 81-year-old American president can still be considered too frail to be re-elected. But on the bright side, 64 is now simply an age when men and women wonder what they will do with the rest of their lives.

  • Arnab Neil Sengupta is a senior editor at Arab News. X: @arnabnsg
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view