Right now two broad categories of longevity experiments are underway. The first is that more and more people are experimenting with new ways of behaving at each age as they adapt to living longer. Just as the twentieth century saw the creation of teenagers and retirees so we are seeing new stages of life and new patterns of behaviour created at all ages. Secondly a new experimental scientific research agenda is emerging focused on why the body ages. This research program is gaining ground and insight and is optimistic about treatments that will emerge in the next few years.
The Longevity Forum aims to raise awareness about all of this – the gains to healthy life expectancy that have been achieved already, the gains that may come and the need to change how we structure the course of life.
Hopefully raising awareness increases the number of experiments underway which, in turn, should leave to improvements in healthy fulfilled lives. However, The Longevity Forum isn’t just about raising awareness – it’s also about action.
Whilst the number of old people in society is growing rapidly it seems to be being outpaced by the number of conferences on the topic. Debate is to be valued but we also need to start acting now. That’s why an important part of our inaugural event on November 5th 2018 was a commitment to a limited number of experiments aimed at promoting healthier longer lives.
At the Forum event a decision was taken to embark on four distinct projects over the course of 2019.
The first project was to research a possible cure for Scleroderma. Scleroderma is a rare orphan autoimmune condition with 19,000 systemic sufferers in the UK and an estimated 2.5million worldwide. The disease is associated with fibrosis resulting in collagen deposits (in the words of the Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK sufferers feel like ‘my body is turning into stone’). Working with Alex Zhavoronkov of Insilico Medicine, The Longevity Forum will focus on achieving a cure for this painful and debilitating illness. I wasn’t involved in the decision to back this project but was delighted with our involvement. My mother suffered from the disease and her own old age would have been much better had she not.
Launching Encore Fellows in the UK
The second project we committed to was launching the Encore Fellows programme in the UK. As life lengthens our careers will elongate and this will involve multiple transitions. How we deal with transitions will become increasingly important, as described in my book The 100 Year Life.
In the US, the Encore Fellows programme has been doing this for over 10 years. The scheme involves employers offering their retiring workers an opportunity to work for 6 months for a charity on specific projects. Often after the 6 months are over the employee may transit to a permanent job with the host charity and in many cases stays involved in social sector work. Encore as an organisation works with firms to help mentor retirees into their new role and sources charities to act as a host.
Along with Julia Randell-Khan I will be helping to launch an Encore Fellows scheme in the UK in 2019. Julia has been working with Encore in the U.S whilst she was on the Stanford University Distinguished Careers Institute programme and now she has returned to the UK will be working with The Longevity Forum and launching the Fellows program. We have already been talking to a number of companies and charities about how best to do that and have been met with considerable enthusiasm. One issue we will be examining is whether there are other ways of using the Encore idea. In particular whether it can be available not just for those at retirement age but at any stage of their career who wish to take a short break and learn new skills or make a contribution to the community before resuming their career track.
MidLife/MidCareer Course at City Lit
The City Lit is a 100 year old adult education institute based in Central
London. It is Europe’s largest adult education institution. Inspired by The 100 Year Life, The Longevity Forum will work with City Lit to develop an accessible mid life/mid career course that helps individuals evaluate their finances, their skills, their working prospects and their general life direction.
Longer working lives mean that retirement is becoming a more distant prospect. They are also leading to multi stage careers. As a result it is important mid career to take stock of your finances and work out how long you are likely to need to work for, what work you would ideally like to be doing, assessing the skills you need to support this work and then decide how to acquire these skills. On the back of a recommendation in the Cridland report a number of companies are experimenting with a midlife MOT but currently this is only available through a handful of firms and also depends on being an employee. Working with City Lit the aim is to develop a version of this course to pilot in 2019.
A Global New Map of Life
Every country around the world is seeing an increase in its average age and a rise in the proportion of people aged over 65. Whilst life expectancy is greatest in the richest nations it is rising fastest in emerging markets. Nearly all discussions of demographic trends focus on the rise in the number of old people but relatively little on how the way people are ageing is changing.
The fact that on average we are living longer and are healthier for longer should be good for us at an individual level but also for the country as a whole. If we can adjust our life course to ensure that we stay healthy and productive for longer not only does that help support a more fulfilling individual life but it can also support a more productive economy and help mitigate the economic costs of an ageing society.
To do so requires rethinking the life course. In the words of Professor Laura Carstensen it involves a New Map of Life. The Longevity Forum is working with Carstensen’s Stanford Centre on Longevity to host a small meeting hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation at their Bellagio Center, Italy in September 2019. The aim of the meeting will be to draw together a range of experts from across the world to establish core principles for an agenda aimed at supporting longevity through a global new map of life and to develop indicators to measure progress. After this global convening the idea would be to hold a series of regional and then national level meetings to implement the agenda more widely.
These projects will keep us busy in 2019. At our next annual conference we will be looking for new ideas to support in 2020 and beyond. If you would like to make a suggestion as to an interesting project that we may be able to help with or if you would like to be involved in the above projects then please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.