The 2020s are seeing a silver surge as populations around the world continue to age. While Japan has the highest percentage of senior citizens in the world, other countries in Europe and North America are quickly catching up.
However, an ageing society could mean new potential for health and the economy, according panelist at the 'Silver Health & Economy: New Demographics, New Opportunities' session at HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Digital Event. Finland’s former prime minister, Esko Aho, even compared the promise of a new silver economy to climate reform.
“I believe personally that the ageing of a population is more of an opportunity than a problem for societies. I very much like the phrase 'Silver is the next green,' which means we have to have a similar comprehensive approach to understand this is fundamental systemic change.”
One of the main focuses of the talk was healthy ageing and the ability for seniors to maintain function into their older years. Ritu Sadana, Unit Head of Aging & Health at the World Health Organisation (WHO), gave the example of Singapore, which has multiple initiatives to help seniors stay engaged, including a walking programme and a life-long learning effort.
“All scenarios need to acknowledge that not all older people are the same, and there is tremendous diversity in people’s experiences,” Sadana said.
Panellists noted that older people are coming back into the workforce and volunteering. This could have implications for the economy and society as a whole.
“Retired healthcare professionals have come back to work because of the corona situation, and I think this is a good example of the power of retired people,” Ilona Lundström, director general of the Innovations and Enterprise Financing Department of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy of Finland, said on the panel.
The needs and wants of an ageing population also create opportunities for health tech innovation.
“[When] we are looking at digital solutions, the fact is most of them are dedicated for a younger generation, because most of the companies believe there is a market, and a market drive, for new solutions. How do we get companies to create real tailor-made solutions for senior citizens? In my opinion there is a market for it and it is growing fast,” Aho said.
But another idea emerged on the panel: that creating a better user interface for seniors could just mean a better user experience for everyone.
“Do we need tailor-made solutions, or do we just need better solutions? I think you have a point where you say all the solutions are not that user friendly,” Lundström said. “But user-friendly solutions are user friendly for all citizens and types of users. … We need it at school for the kids, for example, for learning solutions. Very well-designed solutions could also fit for elderly care and those type[s] of needs.”
While panellists stressed that age is just a number, innovating for all means including every age group in the innovation process.
“We need to design products that are age inclusive,” Eric Kihlstrom, chairman of Older, and Aging 2.0's UK ambassador, said in the panel. “Here in the UK, we’ve recognised this and created something called the design age institute that is about inclusive products, so it addresses the needs of all individuals but it doesn’t particularly target one segment.”
For many countries, the fact that their populations are ageing is inevitable. However, Aho stressed that those times when countries and the world are faced with hurdles are also times of technological advances.
“When you face a problem, or if you face a crisis, that has typically created a lot of innovation, and this is going to happen again,” Aho said. “And we are going to see a lot of new thing thanks to [COVID-19]. In the same way, when the population is ageing, it’s going to be a huge opportunity to create innovation.”