Argument for imaging growth gains traction

October 16, 2009

If current life expectancy trends continue, more than half of the babies born in rich nations today will live 100 years. Reaching the century mark is the natural extension of the huge increases in life expectancy—30-plus years—seen in most developed countries over the 20th century. Death rates in those with the longest life-expectancy, including Japan, Sweden, and Spain, suggest that, even if health conditions do not improve, three-quarters of newborns will live to see their 75th birthdays.

If current life expectancy trends continue, more than half of the babies born in rich nations today will live 100 years. Reaching the century mark is the natural extension of the huge increases in life expectancy-30-plus years-seen in most developed countries over the 20th century. Death rates in those with the longest life-expectancy, including Japan, Sweden, and Spain, suggest that, even if health conditions do not improve, three-quarters of newborns will live to see their 75th birthdays.

But with advancing age comes worry about increasing incidences of disease and disability, issues addressed, along with the rising age curve, in a paper published last week in The Lancet. Surprisingly, say researchers at the Danish Ageing Research Centre at the University of Southern Denmark, most evidence for people younger than 85 years suggests limitations and disabilities are being pushed off later and later, despite an increase in chronic diseases and conditions.

So it seems we are living not only longer, but better. Early diagnosis, improved treatment, and amelioration of prevalent diseases so they are less disabling are at least some of the reasons for this apparent contradiction, the researchers say.

These findings bear some consideration in the context of the current national health insurance debate and the malaise that has gripped the markets for MR, CT, and other high-tech diagnostics. Ten years ago it was in vogue for vendors of products addressing these markets to note the graying of America and the expected growth in sales of equipment to meet these needs. Not much has been made of this argument lately, but it remains valid nonetheless.

Underscoring its validity is the conclusion by the Danish researchers that total cancer incidence is rising due to more people living longer. The prevalence of cardiovascular disease is also increasing, they report, largely because deaths from this disease are declining. So, essentially, more people are living with cardiovascular disease because fewer are dying from it, an outcome that, like cancer diagnosis and continued monitoring of long-term survivors, demands the use of high-tech imaging.

In this context, the argument for a rekindling of sales and use of imaging technologies regains credibility and provides a bright spot, for vendors particularly and the imaging community as a whole, in the current gloom.