Aging happens to everyone; it is a natural part of life. However, aging often gets associated with disease and a poorer quality of life. While it is true that being older presents increased health risks, a large proportion of the elderly also lead active, productive, and healthy lifestyles. By 2050, at least 25% of the population of developed economies will be aged 65 years or older. A society that has more than 20% of its population aged 65 or older is considered a “superaged” society. Many businesses are largely unprepared to meet the needs of these aging consumers. Specifically, in many markets around the world, there are gaps in the products and services that may be available compared to those that older consumers want and need. This is surprising given that older adults generate more than one-third of global consumption growth, and this demographic is only going to increase over time.
We can glean some insights from countries that have rapidly aging societies and gain clues on how to innovate for this demographic. We share examples from Japan and Singapore, two of the countries with the highest median life expectancies in the world today.
Japan is the most superaged society in the world today, with almost 1 in 3 individuals aged 65 years or older. Loneliness is a major social issue for the elderly in Japan. Left unaddressed, studies show that this social issue can lead to mental deterioration and sow the seeds for dementia, a major health problem in Japan.
Toyota and Sony have developed robotic companions and pets, respectively, for the elderly. The upside with robotics use is that there’s minimal maintenance and no ongoing costs associated with a live-in companion or buying live pets. VR technology developed by the University of Tokyo enables Japanese elders to travel the world without leaving their homes for those who have issues with long-haul flights. Recently, Mitsufuji revealed that it is developing smart textiles linked to smartphones that specifically cater to the elderly. The garments monitor heart rate and other related health data. These technologies have low barriers to entry and can be rapidly scaled to meet the demands of a growing population.
The Fujisawa smart town was built by Panasonic to showcase the feasibility of sustainable and elder-friendly neighborhoods, with a focus on community and lifestyle. Toyota is working on a similar concept in Miyagi Prefecture’s Ohira village as well. The smart towns have wellness and community support services that engage all, especially the elderly, to prevent social isolation and sedentary lifestyles. While still early-stage, these examples from Japan may serve as a model for future smart towns in rapidly aging communities.
Singapore has one of the highest population densities in the world, only behind Monaco and Macau. As a city-state, it is highly space-constrained, and the population density challenges place unique pressures on Singapore in meeting the demands of an increasingly aged population. As a result, much of its innovation has been focused on decentralizing services and leveraging partnerships to bring in and deploy capabilities it does not readily have access to. This ensures its rapidly aging population receives the best possible services, immaterial of its tight and dense urban landscape.
The two largest ride-hailing companies in Asia, Grab and Gojek, through their partnerships with Singaporean digital healthcare providers WhiteCoat and Doctor Anywhere, respectively, are driving home-based care in Singapore. Meanwhile, Homage and Jaga-Me offer digital matchmaking services for care personnel and elders, helping find the best fit for eldercare. Care is not just being decentralized; its delivery is also being optimized to ensure the same level of quality and patient experience (see our recently published report “Seeking New Business Opportunities by Identifying Gaps in the Patient Journey”). These business models and strategies offer unique insights into future business opportunities. More recently, Singapore’s bus interchanges and train stations have also started functioning as healthcare nodes in a pilot project. Taking advantage of the high human traffic in these public spaces, 17 of these stations will undergo a trial, serving first as dementia go-to points. The focus now will be upskilling existing station staff, but companies can expect more digital touchpoints and integration opportunities in the near term, especially in an innovation-friendly ecosystem like Singapore. Lessons from Singapore could be applicable to major urban centers around the world.
Organizations can be successful in innovating on these opportunities and achieving business expansion when they better understand the market dynamics and spectrum of older adults as consumers and view them more as assets rather than as burdens to society.