The proportion of older people in the UK population is growing – and fast. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) states that the number of people who are aged 65 and over is set to increase by a quarter by 2045, and also estimates that those aged 85 and over are the fastest growing demographic group – by 2050, they will reach five million.
While longer life is a cause for celebration, it also presents a range of specific challenges – in a 2016 government report, adapting health and care systems to meet increased demand was identified as a priority over the coming years.
Allia has been working to address key issues presented by an ageing population. We spoke with Dr Lorraine Morley, who leads on Allia’s work in the silver economy space and the AgeTech Accelerator programme. What are the most important areas of focus for supporting the ageing population, and what are the challenges of creating products and services for this growing demographic?
What is the most important focus for supporting the ageing population?
The ageing population tends to get pooled into one, but they have very distinct segments like all sample groups. The most important thing is to not make assumptions about people because they’re over a certain age. We need to understand each different segment and what’s important to them, and then design products that meet their needs.
There may be wonderful, ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ products but they might in reality be very expensive to create. If we strip out the parts that are nice to have and focus on the ‘must have’ elements – then those are the solutions that really make the impact. These are the products that can really help older people live their lives in the way they want.
We then create simpler versions that appeal to a wider number of people. For this transitional generation who aren’t digital natives and may or may not have learnt to embrace technology, we need to have products that are specifically designed for them. These can range from something as simple as reminder notes in prominent places around the home, to a device that reminds someone to take their medication – Kintell, who took part in wave 3 of the AgeTech Accelerator programme, are a great example of this sort of tech. Their devices help support independent living, and ‘nudge’ older people into self-selected behaviours to keep them healthy and happy.
It’s also about education. Encouraging people to have healthier lifestyles and understand how their behaviour in their forties and fifties impact how they are in their 70s and 80s. And then it’s about education on how tech can help. But it’s also about encouraging those people to help with the co-creation of products and services, as the feedback they can give is really valuable.For example, a woman with early stage dementia may find it stressful in the kitchen, as she can’t remember which cupboard stores which pots, pans or crockery. Could this insight lead to a simple suggestion such as labelling cupboards, for short term help – but also lead to more technical solutions behind considered such as an app which shows a map of the kitchen and its contents?
What is Allia doing to address issues facing the ageing population?
Allia first moved into this space almost three years ago because we recognised that we could make a great contribution to a big segment of the population. We are a part of SEAS 2 Grow, a European project dedicated to the set-up of a proactive Silver Economy ecosystem, but we’ve also tried to expand the scope of our impact.
A big part of this has been building connections with all the organisations, stakeholders and interested parties in the silver economy. There is so much good work going on, and so many good products and organisations but it’s really fragmented – we may not need to invent anything new but it’s crucial to bring it all together, share ideas and amplify the impact by connecting people.
Are there areas within this group with a greater need for products and services?
While there’s no shortage of products and services out there, there are a few areas where we know there aren’t products where they’re really needed.
Three main areas are key; firstly how to prevent falls in the home; particularly the first fall because it’s often this that starts the downward trajectory into the healthcare system. Secondly, how can we help to look after people when they become increasingly frail. Many want to stay in their own homes, so we need to address how we provide support and products to help those people. Thirdly, how we can help people to stay at home if they start to go into cognitive decline. About 8% of older people end up with some form of dementia, so we need to find products that help people at the first stages of decline, but also identify solutions for later stage dementia, when people do end up in a care or nursing home.
We have a whole database of 300 silver economy products and services, most of which are from the UK, with everything from Pathfinder’s wearable tech to help those with Parkinson’s and cognitive issues to walk with confidence, to Kemuri’s smart power socket which monitors wellbeing and lifestyle, automatically alerting families to the risks of serious health conditions. However, finding products that have a model that can scale, grow and cross cultural and socio-economic differences is a challenge. Products come up all the time that blow my mind, but it’s not just about designing an amazing product – it’s also about finding a route to market which can sometimes be very difficult. Our work looks at all these challenges and aims to address all factors, so it’s broad, and busy but gaining in traction and recognition.