Can society support a 20-year increase in average lifespan?

Aging is the number one cause of death… No sh** Sherlock! But, seriously:

Aging is among the greatest known risk factors for most human diseases, and of roughly 150,000 people who die each day across the globe, about two-thirds die from age-related causes.

Abu Shufian Ishtiaq Ahmed, WJEM

Aging can be viewed as the gradual deterioration of each cell in our body, lessening their ability to function properly. As our functions decline, we become more prone to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and dementia. That’s why we can’t die of old age. But, rather die from age-related causes.

In theory, by eliminating cellular decline, we could extend the average lifespan.
One possible route is the removal of senescent cells. These are cells that have divided a number of times and lost their defense mechanism that protects their DNA. They are “zombie cells” with no function, take up the space of healthy cells, and once accumulated in large quantities lead to a number of problems.

Although a few scientists successfully removed senescent cells in lab grown human cells, there’s still a long way to go before they begin human trials.

Of course, like most great races there’s many ways of reaching the finish line. And no, none of them include Olay’s 7-in-1 anti-aging cream. It does include:

  • NAD+ – this is an enzyme that essentially communicates to our cells how they can look after themselves. As we age, there’s less and less of this enzyme in our bodies and is linked with problems such as: skin cancer, alzheimers, heart failure, and MS. 
  • Stem Cells – these act as a cellular blueprint, reproducing a steady stream of fresh cells in the body. As we age, their natural occurrence in our bodies lessens.

By finding a way to synthesize more NAD+ and/or stem cells in our bodies, you effectively regenerate healthy bodies later in life.

Let’s say that research in one of these areas really takes off. Pretend for a moment that biologists hit the jackpot and truly effective anti-aging treatments become widespread.

I don’t know the exact effect that eliminating aging from the body would have on increasing one’s lifespan. I said 20 years just for perspective. Realistically, this number could be a hundred or more year increase.

Personally, I’m not interested in whether or not you would “drink the Kool-Aid”. That’s for your own pondering. What interests me are the societal stresses that will result from this advancement:

  • Overpopulation and malnutrition
  • Much older workforce, since retirement will be pushed back
  • More need for elderly care providers
  • Etc… 

Can you foresee any other societal stresses that will result from an overall lengthening of the lifespan? Right now, we may be able to only understand the first dominos (in a potentially very long line) to be tipped over from this technology. Surely, there will be a chain reaction of changes and problems.

Can our society handle a sudden, drastic increase in the average lifespan?