We’re living longer than ever before. A lot longer. A baby boy born in 1916 in England could have expected to live to about 58; a baby boy born in 2016 can expect to see his 90th birthday. The massive increases in life expectancy we’ve seen in recent years have major implications for all areas of public life – and provide a huge opportunity for businesses.
The over-50s account for 76% of the UK’s financial wealth and nearly half of all consumer spending, and this is a fast-growing segment. But there’s a real lack of understanding of the diverse needs, wants and desires of these consumers. From fit and active 60-year-olds wanting to remodel their home, buy a new car and travel the world, to people with high levels of care and support needs as they approach later life – there is no ‘generic’ older person and no single set of products and services to suit them. Currently most marketeers tend to treat all over 50s the same. The failure to see this diversity is reflected in the sorry selection of products and services on offer.
This isn’t inevitable though, and with smart thinking and creativity businesses can make the most of the growing over-50s market and provide people in later life with the exciting, inclusive products and services they want.
One key area for innovation is in helping people to maintain their health at work. By 2030, 40% of the working age population will have a long-term health condition. Among over-50s, musculoskeletal conditions are the number one reason people leave work. We need better products and designs so that workplaces can adapt to our changing needs, from basic lifting aids and safety gear to high tech exoskeleton suits. These should be paired with new and more widely accessible assistive technologies and better mechanisms to assess functional capability. We also need business and financing models that make workplace health support more accessible and affordable for self-employed individuals and SMEs.
At the same time, there is plenty of room for inclusive products in the home to help people as they age. This area has received a lot of interest and enthusiasm recently, such as ‘care robots’, remote monitoring systems and the NHS partnership with Amazon’s Alexa, which sees clinically accredited health information provided to users in response to questions.
There are also low-tech examples that can greatly boost a person’s functional ability, from memory aids and colour coded utensils for people living with dementia to lever taps and walk-in showers for those who have lost mobility.
There are challenges, such as deciding who is responsible for the information gathered by smart monitoring devices, and how best to support the millions of older people who don’t have internet access. But products which are thoughtfully designed in collaboration with the people who could benefit from them could play a huge role in helping people to stay in their own homes comfortably and safely for longer, so it’s vital that businesses invest in getting this right.
The list goes on: from driverless car technologies to help people get out and about when they’re no longer able to drive, to gyms catering to people trying to maintain their health and mobility in later life, rather than just to young fitness enthusiasts, there is a whole world of inclusive, innovative products and services that could transform people’s lives and boost businesses’ profits.
The £98 million Healthy Ageing Programme, funded by the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) and led by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has now opened its first tranche of competitions to encourage business to explore these opportunities.
The programme will stimulate new ideas for products, services and business models, to help us live healthier, happier and more independent lives as we age. This is a great catalyst for the new thinking we need to see if we are to make the most of our longer lives – we hope entrepreneurs and innovators take note!