The Impact of Improving Healthcare Technology

Technology and longevity researcher Sonia Arrison explains how improving healthcare will affect our lives

Want to live past 100? What would that mean for your health, your career and your family?

Sonia Arrison, a Northern California-based technology expert, researches how emerging healthcare innovations will affect the longevity and life patterns of current and future generations. Arrison, author of the book 100 Plus, recently spoke with Insights about her research.

Q: What kind of healthcare breakthroughs will have the biggest impact on our lives in coming years?

Arrison: There are so many, because technology is advancing at an incredibly fast pace. Just today I was reading about liquid biopsies, which are tests that can detect cancer cells circulating in the blood. They allow people to find out not only if they have cancer, but also what kind of cancer they have and in what organs. They’re being used in clinical trials right now, so the question is when they will go mainstream.

Along with better diagnostics, we’re seeing better imaging technologies, genomics, gene therapy, tissue engineering and technologies that allow consumers to take better control of their health. All of these could improve our life, and potentially extend it. For example, many people today don’t drink enough water, but soon wearable devices will be available to monitor your hydration and alert you when you should drink more.

Q: Wearable devices are trendy right now, but do you think they’ll have a long-term impact on our healthcare?

Arrison: I do. Most people know about activity-monitoring wristbands, but that’s only the beginning. A bunch of other wearables are about to hit the market that will monitor different aspects of personal health and allow people to take more control, and more responsibility, over their own healthcare. For example, there are already apps on the market that use a smartphone to monitor blood pressure or heart rate.

Q: How will all these technological advancements ultimately affect longevity?

Arrison: People will live longer. Longevity has been growing at a pretty steady rate of six hours a day — and that growth rate will keep rising. It’s been predicted that by 2050, we’ll have 600,000 centenarians (up from about 55,000 today1). But people will also be living much healthier lives at older ages, which improves quality of life.

Q: How will this affect aging and retirement?

Arrison: For one, old age won’t feel so old anymore. The definition of retirement is already changing. But I think in the future people will take sabbaticals throughout their working years in which they get re-educated, have children, travel and then return to the workforce. They will work to an older age, but there will be more breaks along the way.

Q: What about families and how they plan for the future?

Arrison: Families will be much bigger than today, because more generations will be living at once. I think the record currently is seven generations. It will be more complicated, and there will be greater diversity within families and more pronounced generational divides. It will change how people plan for inheritances, because the eldest family members could very well live past 100. So you will likely see more people giving during their lifetime. Families will have to plan for greater longevity.

1U.S. Census Bureau, The Centenarian Population: 2007–2011, April 2014.

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