Almost 70,000 people in Japan have reached the age of 100. In ten years’ time the number of centenarians is expected to be as high as 170,000. Is the dream of eternal life turning into reality, or are the problems of ageing getting worse? The fact is that demographic change raises enormous challenges for society, the world of politics and the economy – not only in Japan.
At the age of 80 Yuichiro Miura conquers Mount Everest. Hiromu Inada competes in the Ironman in Hawaii at the grand old age of 83. The Guinness Book of Records is crammed with success stories about “madcap old people”. Having the longest life expectancy in the world is something to be justifiably proud of. Experiencing a significant decline in the birth rate may make people worried. It means rising health costs, higher social security contributions, and a shortage of care workers etc.
But the Japanese are not prophets of doom. In 2017 “The 100-Year Life” written by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott is appearing on bookshelves in Japan. Both of the authors teach at the London Business School, and they highlight in striking scenarios the impact which a long life may in future have on people’s finances, health, and social lives. This makes such an impression that the Japanese government uses it as the basis for its policies. A disparate group of ministers, scientists, and business and trade union representatives is founded. Prime minister Abe chairs all the meetings, which shows just how much importance he attaches to this subject. One example of how practical the work is is an 83-year-old who helps to develop the app games for the elderly. Critics talk about a spectacle put on by the government – but the public are paying attention and therefore exerting an influence.
75 IS THE NEW 65
The Japanese “Gerontological Society” has readjusted the definition of older people from 65 to 75 years old. Older people pay more attention to their health, fitness studios are booming, and property fairs show how extra room can be created for older family members. Companies are benefitting from older people’s taste for spending in areas ranging from package tours to technology and body care products. Financial services providers offer new services for very elderly people, and companies are developing models of work which will provide a contractual basis for older workers to “re-engage” in the world of work. This is because Japanese men and women would like to work for as long as possible due to social and economic reasons.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE FOR HUMANITY
By 2025 there will be a shortage of about one million human care workers in Japan. Why not talk about artificial intelligence and put dystopian phantasies to one side? The people of Japan feel little if any resentment towards artificial intelligence. Hardly surprising given that the world leader in the production of robots is a Japanese company which supplies 52 percent of global demand. On average about 100,000 of these creations are exported every year.
The machines which often have human, likeable “facial features” bring variety and stimulation to the lives of elderly people. For instance, the residents of an old people’s home in Tokyo are encouraged to do exercise by the “Pepper” robot. The robotic dog AIBO reacts to music, gestures and speech and is an attentive friend for the ill and the elderly who brings joy into their lives. PARO, a fluffy seal that has been specially developed for people who suffer from dementia, helps those who are affected by the illness to display positive emotions. However, the care staff are also thankful for the high-tech assistance: Digitally controlled “movement coaches” help people to keep their limbs moving, and the care home residents retain their independence while also easing the workload of the nursing staff. The carrying of patients is made easier through the use of a portable movement assistant which helps to prevent back and muscular problems among the staff.
TURNING A CURSE INTO A BLESSING
Predicting the future is fraught with uncertainty, but demographic change is certain. Including outside of Japan. Why not supplement the 3-stage linear process of learning, working and retiring with more flexible life phases?
Using knowledge, health, independent decision-making and technological support to make good use of the extra years of life: not a bad option.
What does “fit for the future” mean for an ageing society?
An ageing society faces some very special challenges: for instance, how will it manage to ensure and maintain secure access to healthy food, affordable health services, or further education without putting age restrictions in place? We use the Globalance Footprint to search for companies which achieve success by making use of special innovations: food companies which develop products that are tailored to the needs of older people. Pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies which help to ensure that health costs remain affordable in old age. IT and telecoms companies which help older people to maintain their social contacts and to carry on learning throughout their life.
Demographics and age
Ventas Inc. is an American company which specialises in the development and operation of accommodation and care/health centres for older people. Its portfolio comprises almost 1,200 properties in the USA, Canada and the UK. Ventas benefits from the increasing demand for specialised accommodation for the elderly.
Teladoc Inc. is a US health company which provides medical care remotely via mobile devices, the internet and videos, and over the phone. With 1,200 employees and an annual turnover of USD 400M the company services a continually growing number of users.
Stryker Inc. Stryker Corporation which has its head office in the USA is a leading company in the field of orthopaedic and surgical implants. Stryker is benefitting from the increasing global demand for artificial limbs and endoprostheses which keep our locomotor system in shape even in old age.