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The Critical Need to Promote Research of Aging and Aging-related Diseases to Improve Health and Longevity of the Elderly Population in Nordic Countries and Globally

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This is an outreach letter that was launched toward the 23rd Nordic Congress of Gerontology that took place in Tampere, Finland, on June 19-22, 2016. This was an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about the need to promote longevity research in Nordic countries. Suggestions are welcome for planning further outreach and helping to spread the word.

The Finnish version:

The Danish version:

The Swedish version:

The English version:

The Critical Need to Promote Research of Aging and Aging-related Diseases to Improve Health and Longevity of the Elderly Population in Nordic Countries and Globally

On behalf of the International Society on Aging and Disease, the Longevity Finland association and other allied longevity research advocacy organizations, we would like to address you toward the 23rd Nordic Congress in Gerontology (Tampere, Finland, June 19-22, 2016,, and bring the following open letter to your attention.

Over the past decades, the average life expectancy has increased globally, reaching a worldwide average of about 70 years in 2014 (6 years longer than in 1990) and around 80 in the developed countries (compared to about 50 years in the developed countries in the early 20th century).  In the Nordic countries – Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland – the life expectancy is of the highest in the world, well over 80. Although the increasing life expectancy generally reflects positive human development, new challenges are arising. They stem from the fact that growing older is still inherently associated with biological and cognitive degeneration, although the severity and speed of cognitive decline, physical frailty and psychological impairment can vary between individuals.  Degenerative aging processes are the major underlying cause for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer, ischemic heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obstructive lung disease, and others. Aging also increases the risk of morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases like pneumonia and influenza. Moreover, the susceptibility to injury and trauma (such as falls and concussions), due to the impairment of balance and mental state, and even falling victim to violence, are strongly increased by the aging process. Also, the processes of aging exacerbate and reinforce the effects of other risk factors of non-communicable diseases (tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol). In sum, aging-related health decline is the main cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide and should be addressed according to the severity of the problem. Because of these severe and negative effects, aging is already regarded as one of the greatest economic and societal challenges that most countries – especially in the industrialized world – will face in the coming decades.

The challenge of the aging society has been widely recognized and numerous research and development programs around the globe have been initiated to tackle age-related diseases. Yet, medical research and development efforts currently are focused mainly on single diseases, like Alzheimer’s dementia, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, cancer, etc. The underlying degenerative aging processes, determinative for the emergence of those diseases, are often underemphasized. New directions in research and development take a more holistic approach for tackling the degenerative processes and negative biological effects of human aging, addressing several major fundamental causes of aging and aging-related diseases at once and in an interrelated manner.  Such approaches are very promising, for the following reasons:

  • They are already supported by scientific proofs of concept, involving the evidential increase in healthy lifespan in animal models and the emerging technological capabilities to intervene into fundamental aging processes. Any reinforcement in this research can produce cumulative effects and speed up the translation from basic studies to widely available therapies.
  • They can provide solutions to a number of non-communicable, age-related diseases, insofar as such diseases are strongly determined by degenerative aging processes (such as chronic inflammation, cross-linkage of macromolecules, somatic mutations, loss of stem cell populations, and others). Moreover, they are likely to decrease susceptibility of the elderly also to communicable diseases due to improvements in immunity.
  • The innovative, applied results of such research and development will lead to sustainable solutions for a large array of age-related medical and social challenges, that may be globally applicable. The most important of them are the savings in healthcare costs for aging-related diseases and increase in the period of productivity of older persons. These prospective effects make this research potentially the most profitable form of general and biomedical research.
  • Such research and development should be supported on ethical grounds, to provide equal health care chances for the elderly as for the young.

Therefore it is the societal duty, especially of the professionals in biology, medicine, health care, economy and socio-political organizations to strongly recommend greater investments in research and development dealing with the understanding of mechanisms associated with the human biological aging process and translating these insights into safe, affordable and universally available applied technologies and treatments.

Hence we urge you to advocate with the government, or in any institutional framework where you are active and influential, for the creation and implementation of the following policies to promote research into the biology of aging and aging-related diseases, for improving the health of the global elderly population:

1)               Funding: Act to ensure a significant increase of governmental and non-governmental funding for goal-directed (translational) research in preventing the degenerative aging processes, and the associated chronic non-communicable diseases and disabilities, and for extending healthy and productive life, during the entire life course.

2)               Incentives: Act to develop and adopt legal and regulatory frameworks that give incentives for goal-directed research and development designed to specifically address the development, registration, administration and accessibility of drugs, medical technologies and other therapies that will ameliorate the aging processes and associated diseases and extend healthy life.

3)               Institutions: Act to establish and expand national and international coordination and consultation structures, programs and institutions to steer promotion of research, development and education on the biology of aging and associated diseases and the development of clinical guidelines to modulate the aging processes and associated aging-related diseases and to extend the healthy and productive lifespan for the population.

These measures are designed to reduce the burden of the aging process on the economy and to alleviate the suffering of the aged and the grief of their loved ones. On the positive side, if granted sufficient support, these measures can increase the healthy life expectancy for the elderly, extend their period of productivity and their interaction with society, and enhance their sense of enjoyment, purpose, equality and valuation of life.

Nordic countries – building on their proven achievements in increasing healthy life expectancy, their tremendous medical, scientific, social, economic and humanitarian capabilities – can play a leading part in achieving these goals in the region and globally. We urge to use the occasion of the  23rd Nordic Congress in Gerontology to raise the awareness of the issue and advance the goal of achieving healthy longevity for all through the support of biomedical science of aging.

See also: “The Critical Need to Promote Research of Aging and Aging-related Diseases to Improve Health and Longevity of the Elderly Population” Aging and Disease, 6 (1), 2015


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