Worldwide, the number of people aged 65 and above is projected to grow from an estimated 524M in 2010 to nearly 1.5B in 2050 (Global Health and Aging, 2011). In the U.S., the ratio of adults aged 65+ to people 20-64 will increase by 80% in the next four decades, and life expectancy is projected to reach 84.5 years by 2050. The average life expectancy in the U.S. increased from 45 in 1900 to 78 in 2010 (Arias, 2014). U.S. birth rates dropped for the sixth consecutive year in 2014 (Martin et al., 2013). U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the increased life span in combination with declining birth rates will result in one-in-five Americans being 65 or older, and at least 400,000 will be 100 or older by the year 2050.
Medical advances of twentieth century have resulted, in part, in this dramatic rise in life expectancy. The increase in life expectancy has triggered a shift in the leading causes of disease and death emphasizing the emergence of chronic and degenerative diseases, and the need for developing innovative neurotechnologies to address disabilities and health care costs (Global Health & Aging, 2011).
We have moved from a society dying of fatal diseases to a society of individuals living with chronic diseases.
Many diseases and traumas can significantly decrease or remove mobility such as stroke, spinal cord injury, and Parkinson’s disease. Similarly these and other disease and injuries, such as Retinitis Pigmentosa and other forms of blindness, can decrease or block sensation. Diseases that directly affect sensory and motor function also often have comorbid effects on cognition and emotion. Chronic pathologies that span the hierarchy from basic physiological function to thought and emotion—hypertension, epilepsy, depression—may be ameliorated through neural technological approaches. The population of individuals living with disability is expanding and the current medical standard of care will need to be augmented in order to reduce the significant impact on the national economy in the coming decades.