By Arathi Sethumadhavan & Megan Saunders
There will be a shift in the global ageing population from 7% today to 20% in the next few decades. This growth will be one of the greatest social, economic, and political transformations of our time, says the World Economic Forum.
Many societies have outdated beliefs about ageing. Older adults are often described as frail, as “challenges” to be addressed, and they are discriminated against, particularly in the workplace, where their experience and knowledge should count.
While we celebrate the birth and growth of children and their early adulthood, we fail to respect those with wisdom and important stories to pass down to younger generations. Marketing companies tend to focus on millennials and Gen Z, but one of the largest economic segments, the baby boomers, are largely forgotten.
According to a recent survey, baby boomers in the US are projected to have 70% of disposable income over the next five years yet less than 10% of advertising efforts are directed towards them. As they begin to retire and continue to do so over the next several decades, there is untapped opportunity in the realm of retirement services.
Rethinking stereotypical beliefs about ageing and changing the discourse around older adults will positively transform society into one where everyone can age with purpose.
The challenges of getting older
By 2050, the number of adults over the age of 65 globally will double, reaching a staggering 1.6 billion, with the largest growth in the developing world. This growth will be one of the greatest social, economic, and political transformations of our time, that will impact existing healthcare, government and social systems, that today are largely not inclusive of the ageing population or built to the scale needed to support it.
But we can begin to make investments in our support systems (enabled and scaled by technology) that encompass a coordinated response from governments, society, academia, and the private sector.
A precursor to investing in innovative solutions will be to acknowledge the needs of older adults and identify their caregiving challenges. These are the issues that will inform the solutions agenda.
Ageing in place
Ageing in place refers to the desire to be independent in a residence of one’s choice and participate in the community. Meaningful social contact and well-being are essential components of ageing in place. Instead of segregating people into communities based on age (like retirement communities), intergenerational living can provide companionship and purpose for older adults.
Driving cessation is associated with increased depressive symptoms and a variety of other health consequences. Therefore, meeting the mobility needs of the older population is crucial to minimizing the adverse impacts on their health and well-being.
The health challenges faced by older adults undermine the potential opportunities of increased longevity. Unfortunately, older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic ailments, with 80% of seniors in the US having at least one chronic disease and 70% having at least two. Heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes are among the most common.
Approximately 47.5 million people worldwide have dementia—a number that is predicted to nearly triple by 2050.
Social inclusion or active engagement in society via a social network (whether through employment, volunteering, childcare, learning or teaching) has a positive impact on mortality, well-being, and life satisfaction. In fact, the fallout from social isolation and loneliness is estimated to cost US Medicare $6.7 billion per year.
Financial health and reskilling
A significant number of low- and medium-income seniors experience financial challenges that require them to extend their retirement plan. With increased longevity, even those individuals who have the means to retire want to stay in the workforce longer but can face age discrimination, despite the fact that an intergenerational workforce that embraces mentoring and reverse mentoring can spark innovation and organizational success.
Diversity in abilities
It is important to acknowledge that older adults are a heterogeneous group of individuals, with varying physical, sensory, cognitive, and sensory abilities. Contrary to popular belief, there is not always a clear relationship between chronological age and health status.
In fact, a significant proportion of older Americans are healthy across a broad age range, from 51-54, 55-59 all the way to those aged 85+. There are also variations in educational levels and technological experience among older adults.
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About the authors: Arathi Sethumadhavan isProject Fellow, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, World Economic Forum, Microsoft; Megan Saunders is Vice President, Microsoft Connected Care.