The UK population is ageing, with the percentage of those aged 65+ increasing from 14.1 per cent in 1975 to 17.8 per cent in 2015, projected to jump to nearly a quarter of the population by 2045. This major societal shift requires a change in how we think about age and the increasingly outdated connection of age to stages of life (study, work, retirement), what sociologist Michael Young has termed ‘chronologism’. As we live longer, we will need new outlets for our skills and creativity in order to stay active and engaged members of society long into what is termed ‘retirement’.
The ageing population comes with significant challenges, particularly relating to physical and mental health, housing, social care and finance. As we age we are more likely to develop a disability or multiple long term conditions such as cardiovascular disease or dementia, with major impacts on quality of life and the ability to complete everyday tasks. Health and social care services are already strained from increased demand and will need to focus more on early detection and better prevention, as well as approaches which help older people to better self–manage their conditions and live healthier lives. In addition to physical illness and disability, mental health issues such as depression and social isolation also increase in prevalence as we age.
The ageing population is likely to place major strains on public finances, as the proportion of working-age adults to retirees increases, and as the demand for health and social care services expands. The OBR predicts healthcare spending to grow from 7.3 per cent to 8.3 per cent of GDP, and long term social care to double from 1.1 per cent to 2.2 per cent by 2065. However, there are economic opportunities in the form of the ‘Silver Economy’. According to 2015 research from Saga and the Centre for Economics and Business Research, Britain’s over-50s spent £320 billion a year, around 47 per cent of all UK consumer spending.
Whilst business as usual is therefore no longer an option, all is not doom and gloom. This is a huge societal challenge, but also a golden opportunity to reimagine how we can support and empower people to lead fulfilling and healthy lives as they grow older, creating new products and services that deliver improved outcomes while contributing to economic growth. Digital technologies, digital infrastructure and data production are already revolutionising our lives and could be transformative for supporting healthy and active ageing. They can automate aspects of the home and improve efficiency to make our lives easier, provide us with a greater degree of interaction and communication, provide personalised support and care, and allow health and human services to be delivered remotely.
Our homes are already getting smarter through innovations such as smart meters and smart speakers, and we envisage these smarter, connected ‘cognitive’ homes as being able to meet our needs throughout our lifespan, including when we need extra assistance. We envisage a future of smarter neighbourhoods, with the ‘cognitive’ home being the foundation of a more connected, sustainable and healthy future community.
As the baby boomer generation ages they are demanding better designed and more sophisticated technology and will increasingly refuse to settle for stigmatising or unattractive products and services. They increasingly want more ‘cool tech’ and, perhaps most importantly of all, they want suppliers to focus on them as customers, not as patients, end users, or care clients. Many of these technologies will create large cost savings for health and social care, by removing some of the need and/or desire for traditional public healthcare facilities.
This change won’t happen on its own and significant barriers remain to be overcome. Examples include interoperability between devices, institutional inertia, developing sustainable business models, and designing usable, functional and stylish products that people want to use and/or pay for, to name just a few. We believe there is significant scope for challenge prizes to tackle the issues associated with an ageing population. Not only is there is significant market potential in this emerging sector, but there is a lot of unmet need.
Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre is jointly running a workshop with the Agile Ageing™ Alliance, which will inform future initiatives by both AAA as well as the Centre. As part of this we are carrying out research, stakeholder engagement, discussions with relevant organisations and putting together an expert workshop on 16 October at NatWest HQ. This event will aim to break down the challenges in developing and delivering the benefits of a ‘cognitive home’ by identifying specific barriers and opportunities where innovation can make a difference.
If you are interested in participating, please email [email protected]