Disruption And The Ageing Society

The biggest opportunity for business?

Forget technology. The growing ageing demographic is fast becoming the biggest force in disruption, not just for business but for society, work, play and life in general. By 2050, worldwide, there are likely to be two billion people over 60. The majority of children born in rich countries today can expect to live to more than a 100 yet we continue to structure our lives the way our parents and even grandparents did.

Advances in healthcare have helped us live longer and scientists are now working to overcome the process of ageing itself. Longevity research is booming with the prospect of extending the human lifespan more promising every day. However, the real goal is to live healthier, longer lives, not just increase our time. And this is the hard part, but also the one with the most potential for disruption.

Leaders in the field of ageing, such as Aubrey De Grey, are classifying ageing as a chronic disease (or more accurately for most people, usually a combination of many chronic diseases that will eventually lead to death). Entrepreneurs in longevity, like Liz Parish, CEO of Bioviva, are experimenting with gene and cell therapies to extend lifespan by slowing the ageing process at the cellular level (she is ‘patient zero’ in her own trials). With DNA testing becoming less expensive, there have been interesting companies like SuisseLifeScience emerging that can test your DNA and then provide tailored advice on your nutrition and lifestyle enabling you to take control of your genetic legacy and, hopefully, age well and live longer, more healthily.

But it is not just about genetics. Scientists (aided by artificial intelligence of course) are discovering more and more about the complex interplay between genes and the environment and how this can be affected by our hormones, what we eat, how fit we are, the lifestyle we choose, and the wider microbiome we are exposed to. 

Ironically, the increasing understanding of the genetic and biological basis of ageing is leading us to rethink our medical system, challenging our thinking from a reactionary paradigm focused on illness to a preventative model that focuses on wellness. While the NHS is a precious institution that looks after us when we are ill, wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to use it by keeping well?

What do longer life spans mean for the way we organise our societies? How can people best prepare themselves for living considerably longer?

These are questions that Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton address in their book, The 100-Year Life: Living and Work in an Age of Longevity, which brings clarity about the changes and the choices we will see in the age of longevity. To make longevity a gift Scott and Gratton argue we need to completely reinvent how we perceive and move through the stages of life, and it will be ‘nothing short of a social revolution’. They predict the current three stage life of education, career and retirement will be replaced by a multi stage life with new stages, new ages and with the potential for much greater individualised sequencing.

The Government Office for Science’s Foresight report, The Future of an Ageing Population (published in 2016) predicted many of these changes on the horizon. But what to do about the looming demographic time bomb is the interesting, and most vexing, question.

And this is where ‘we’ come in. It is up to us how we confront and rise to the challenge and turn it on its head, to see this as a huge, positive opportunity for transformational, even radical, change that can make all of our lives better. It is not up to government, the NHS or social care to be ultimately responsible – it is us, the citizen, and the consumer to use our spending power, knowledge and sense of agency (and urgency) to take control.

And the time is now. The Government have created a huge opportunity with the recent announcement of the four Grand Challenges in the recent Industrial Strategy.The Ageing Society Grand Challenge is backed by a £300 million fund, with £98 million for a ‘healthy ageing programme’ and £210 million for a ‘data to early diagnosis and precision medicine programme’ to improve diagnosis of disease and develop new medical treatments.

Over the past few weeks Innovate UK have been running events around the country – with more in the pipeline – to identify those pioneering start-ups, future-thinking third sector and academic organisations and bold industry leaders prepared to think differently and collaborate – working together around the vision to make the UK one of the best places to grow old in.

This is a huge opportunity for any business. There is a significant market to be created for businesses targeting an older generation holding a significant proportion of UK household wealth.

But where are the companies taking a lead to develop these products and services for the older consumer?

Eric Kihlstrom, Interim Director of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund-Healthy Ageing, said at a recent event: ‘the older, +60-year-old consumer is currently ‘invisible’ in the mass consumer market. Why is this -when 70% of UK wealth is held by 50+ year olds? There are 10 million people in the UK today who can expect to live to 100 years. The majority of Apple Watch owners are over 45. And the only smartphone market segment that still growing is the over 60s’.

New thinking in harnessing the power of data is pivotal to create an entirely new ecosystem and marketplace for products and services ‘that care’. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force on the 25thMay is poised to arm citizens with new powers over their data – and consumers will increasingly recognise that the data they hold is the world’s new, most powerful asset. Artificial intelligence and other technologies like blockchain will help fuel a new data-driven economy – with data belonging to us.

All consumer-data organisations, including banks, supermarkets, energy firms, retail firms and leisure services have access to data that could be very useful in the preventative health setting, especially in older populations who would like to live better for as long as possible and independently in their homes. .  Data-driven solutions could also potentially transform the lives of carers, who are hugely undervalued and often neglected in the wider public debate. We could see interesting innovation emerge from the move towards open data beyond finance and into health- as mooted in the recent Select Committee report on AI. And there are many organisations and individuals looking at brave concepts like data philanthropy and trusted data vehicles to harness consumer data for preventative health and disrupt current business models to support the SME sector post Brexit, as explored in a recent round table involving government, citizens, and industry leaders.

To all leaders and innovators – the time is now to play your part in realising the opportunity for radical, positive change in the ageing society. We have the technology and we have the data. What we need now is a cultural and social revolution to create a caring, inclusive environment, a bold narrative and a consumer-driven marketplace to enable a longer life that we could all look forward to and benefit from.

Tina is founder of Collider Health, a health innovation catalyst that works with organisations of all shapes and sizes to think and do differently via collaborative ecosystems to help corporates, start-ups, third sector and investors form strategic partnerships and facilitate smart investment – for long term, sustainable impact. She is currently working with Innovate UK to support the Healthy Ageing programme – for regular updates on pre-competition events click here or contact Tina on [email protected] for details on how you can get involved in the consortia.