Elderly hospital patient

Aging: Humanity's Biggest Problem

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Aging is humanity's biggest problem, because it causes the most death and suffering compared to all other causes put together. That includes causes such as starvation, violence, infectious diseases, environmental degradation, accidents—you name it. Aging is also much more likely to affect you personally and most of the people you know more than any other problem. Concerns about the effects of defeating aging are legitimate but do not outweigh the merits of saving so many lives and alleviating so much suffering.

Death Caused By Aging

Pie chart: Deaths per Day, 100,000 Age-Related, 50,000 Others
Image by CAA
Data by WHO

The number of people killed by aging is enormous and far larger than all other causes of death combined. Out of the 150,000 people that die each day worldwide, two-thirds—100,000 people—die of aging. That means aging causes the equivalent of about thirty World Trade Centers every single day. In the developed world, aging causes 90 percent of all deaths. That means that nine out of ten people die of aging. In a single year, 36 million lives are lost due to aging versus 18 million due to all of the other causes of death. World War II, the deadliest war in history, killed over 60 million people. Aging kills just as many people every two years. Unlike war, the death toll from aging never stops.

Suffering Caused By Aging

Line chart: age-related increase in chronic disease, dementia, and disability
Image by CAA
Data by Anderson, Evans, CDC

Besides being the leading cause of death, aging also inflicts the most human misery compared to all other causes before eventually killing its victims. Most people do not die of aging instantly; few die peacefully in their sleep without struggling for years with chronic, debilitating, age-related disease. Usually, the older people become the more likely they are to develop diseases caused by the aging process such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. In the United States:

  • 74 percent of people between the ages of 65 to 69 have at least one chronic disease.
  • Of those aged 85 and over, 86 percent have at least one chronic disease.
  • 28 percent of those aged 85 and over suffer from five or more chronic diseases.
  • Almost 40 percent of people aged 85 and over either cannot walk or find walking to be very difficult.
  • Nearly 50 percent of those over age 85 develop some form of dementia such as Alzheimer's disease.

Age-related diseases relentlessly increase disability and frailty years and often a decade or more before eventually killing their victims. Families have to watch helplessly the inexorable physical and mental decline of an affected family member. Other family members are often forced to become caregivers and independence is lost both for themselves as well as for their disabled family member.

Concerns About Defeating Aging

Concerns about the possible effects of defeating aging such as overpopulation and unequal distribution of aging-defeating medical therapies are legitimate but do not outweigh the merits of saving so many lives and alleviating so much suffering—especially given the fact that there are reasonable solutions for each of these concerns. Even if you find some of the proposed solutions unconvincing, these concerns are likely not as important in comparison to the alternative—years of suffering and eventual death for you, your family, and your friends which is guaranteed to happen if aging is not defeated. Another way to think about this is to consider if you are willing to sacrifice yourself and everyone you know in addition to the 100,000 people that die of aging every day for concerns that are theoretical at best and already have solutions that are at least as realistic as the concerns are themselves. If you do not mind suffering and dying of aging, other people should nevertheless be given the chance to decide for themselves instead of having that choice gradually taken away from them by the aging process.

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