How Do You Solve A Problem Like Perennials?

The ageing population is old news – now is the time to do something about it

Life expectancy is on the rise. Anyone with elderly relatives (not to mention an interest in living longer themselves) would probably see this as a positive thing. But there’s a problem. More people living longer places an enormous strain on society and the economy. As of yet, social structures have failed to adapt and industries are struggling to meet their needs. This is a particular problem in healthcare, where demand has outpaced supply. What can be done to respond to the challenges of an ageing population, and who is responsible?

A grey future

In 2017, the UN published their revised World Population Prospects report. It stated that there were 962 million people over the age of 60, and suggested that this number would double by 2050. Although perennials make up more of the population than ever before, social structures have been slow to change. This is not because of a lack of technology or data, but because they have been largely disregarded by digitalisation. However, some companies are attempting to encourage this transition. We spoke to one of them – social care startup Cera. Company CEO Dr. Ben Maruthappu explains that older people – specifically those over the age of 65 – should not have to learn how to use technology. Rather, it should be designed to meet their needs.

“Now people have a whole 30 years that they are living past retirement where they want to be independent and they want to be enjoying themselves. We should be there to provide them with the opportunities to do so,” he says. “I think the mistake that’s been made many times in the past is that platforms, devices and apps have been built that an older person has to be trained to use. They have to go out of their way to make the most out of them.”

Cera aims to become a lifestyle empowerment service. One of the ways it is doing this is by facilitating requests for certain items or services through their carer. Over 65s, particularly those with carers, may not have access to some of these services due to a lack of digital literacy. However, by partnering with the likes of Amazon, Deliveroo, and Gett, they hope to offer carers and users a platform with which to provide services to older people.

“If an older person wants food, transportation or retail goods, they can get them on demand using a technology enabled platform that the carer is able to access on their behalf, of course providing that consent has been given,” says Maruthappu. “This allows older people to benefit from the services that the rest of us use so often, even if they don’t have a smartphone themselves. It’s about improving access to opportunities.”

The official approach to OAPs

Governments are pursuing similar strategies to cope with the problems associated with the rising number of elderly people. Nowhere is the economic impact of ageing societies more evident than in China. The government’s answer to population growth was to enforce an ethically questionable one child policy. Fewer young people inadvertently led to more elderly citizens, who could not fill the economy’s demand for workers. In 2016, the rules were relaxed and parents were allowed to have two children. Now, it is thought that limitations could be completely removed. This is a clear indication of just how serious the problem is – and it’s a multinational challenge.

“In lots of countries, we are seeing more people above the age of 65 without the systems in place to necessarily look after them. This is new. People didn’t always live to 100, and it’s due to some of the amazing innovations that have come out of medicine over the past 50 years,” explains Maruthappu. “Our system is now playing catch up, which is why we are seeing the challenges that we are. In the US there are seven million older people who require care but are not receiving it.”

The UK government has made tangible steps towards addressing the burden placed on services by ageing people. This represents an effort to invest in technology and new models of services that will support ageing people before the problem reaches a crisis point.

Silver linings

From the work already underway in governments and corporations, it’s clear that decision makers have recognised the importance of providing for perennials. Fortunately, this has moved well beyond the care sector.

“There’s a silver lining to the cloud. There is a lot of willingness out there in the system from companies who didn’t really consider this demographic in the past. You now see energy companies who are trying to build solutions for people with dementia. Other companies that are building IoT devices and wearables have realised the profound benefit that their technologies can offer older people in being more independent, managing their condition, and sharing information on their condition with loved ones.”

Not only do companies and governments have a responsibility to address the challenges of an ageing population, but from a business perspective this also presents a good opportunity. Surprisingly, providing relevant and accessible services for older people is an untapped market. As a result, companies themselves will benefit from giving more thought to perennial preferences.

We are now seeing more examples of how companies can group together to make it easier for older people to access the services they need. First and foremost, technology needs to become more user centric. At the same time, more could be done to encourage digital literacy across demographics. Once a grandmother, for example, realises that she can keep in touch with her long distance relatives via a video conferencing application, then she will want to learn how to use it. Once digital services are designed with simplicity in mind – something which Apple have done rather well from – then perennials can join the digital revolution to everyone’s benefit.

What other services or industries need to change to accommodate the ageing society? What responsibility do governments have to support innovative, perennial focused solutions? Should perennials become more digitally literate?

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