In 1913, the average global life expectancy was 34 years; in 2001, it was almost 67. Despite a growing array of tools and technologies designed to stretch our life span and connect and enhance how individuals age, the current aging narrative remains unchanged.
There is a critical need to confront – and change – this narrative. This insight was one of several to emerge from a May 2017 event, the Engaged Aging Summit, convened by EY to actively stimulate and shape the larger global debate about healthy aging and help companies build engaged aging strategies.
“We need to help society change from a mindset and behavior of disease management to disease prevention,” said Pamela Spence, EY Global Life Sciences Industry Leader and organizer of EY’s Engaged Aging initiative.
New business opportunities
Today, roughly 10% of the global population is 60 or older, and over the next four decades that percentage is expected to increase to 25%. As discussed in our paper, How will we disrupt aging before aging disrupts economic growth?, this demographic shift requires investment and the development of a new social contract to fully realize the potential of this increasingly prominent life stage.
To seize the upsides of aging, businesses and communities must develop engaging solutions that optimize individuals’ wellness regardless of personal health status. In the short term, solutions will be weighted toward helping individuals and caregivers manage complex, chronic diseases. Longer term, there is an opportunity to advance investments in precision medicine that will one day lead to precision health. Such offerings will promote preventive interventions long before any signs of disease manifest.
It will also be necessary to combine tools developed by multiple stakeholders into a single fluid network of services. Businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations that partner to create these integrated healthy aging offerings will tap into a positive feedback loop that pays multiple dividends, including providing improved wellness for seniors and their caregivers.
The catalyst for change
As described in How will new technologies make age-related diseases a thing of the past? and By becoming better health consumers, can we change how we age?, a range of technologies now exist to automate care delivery. To be transformative, today’s wearables and tomorrow’s new technology need to be integrated into a ubiquitous, data-rich platform that provides a meaningful user experience. Essentially, the technology has to be for the people, not about the people.
As the scientific understanding of the aging process grows and it becomes possible to integrate clinical, behavioral and environmental data in real time, precision medicine’s boundaries will expand. These precision health approaches are most likely to be successful if they follow four core principles:
To promote lasting behavior change, the technology must work for the end user. Thus, how individuals access and respond to a given technology, whether it is artificial intelligence (AI) or an Internet of Things-enabled device, matters as much – if not more – than what the tool actually does. Increasingly, that means combining a suite of technologies into a common platform that consumers can use in multiple ways via a single interface.
Moreover, these solutions must link to the larger purpose-driven “why” discussed in How can new partnerships close the gap between healthy aging and growing old? Only by understanding the parts of life that are meaningful to an individual can companies help people adopt healthier behaviors that persist over time.
To promote lasting behavior change, solutions need to be flexible enough to be customized to individual needs. That’s one reason IBM and Apple thought carefully about where to deploy their digital Watch-Over service, which connects seniors to loved ones via cloud-connected tablets, with postal workers serving as regular points of contact to assist with technological questions.
In conjunction with Apple and Japan Post, IBM launched its service in 2015 in Japan because the country’s postal workers are well placed to act as trusted liaisons with the local populace. This same approach would not work in the US, since most postal workers don’t have the same longstanding community-based relationships. That said, other groups working in partnership could meet the US need.
Data from our healthy aging survey clearly show that individuals who are more closely connected to family and friends are less concerned about the long-term effects of aging. Increasingly, this social connectivity will be fueled by technologies and services that bridge physical distances to connect individuals to each other and to new experiences. These technologies provide the baseline connection to stimulate the high-touch connections that are an essential component of our humanity.
Approximately 50% of the Engaged Aging Summit attendees came from health care or life sciences companies. In a series of hands-on workshops, Summit participants created seven healthy aging solutions. These solutions combine elements of health care and social care to promote a broader definition of wellness that extends beyond traditional medical interventions and “beyond-the-product” solutions.
This broadening in scope is reminiscent of a trend in the technology sector, where increasingly every enterprise is a tech player because of its use of data and analytics. In the same vein, there is a health angle for almost every product or service offering. Case in point: the microwave, which offers convenient meals for individuals of all ages, but also functions as a health device by supplying vital nutrition to elderly who no longer want to cook their own meals from scratch.
Small steps, big changes
While scalability is important, solutions have to be demonstrably effective for some group before growing. And the “where” is as important as the “what,” with communities playing a critical role in deploying locally based, culturally relevant healthy longevity solutions.
A growing number of organizations, from the World Health Organization to the Milken Institute, see an opportunity to use cities, neighborhoods and even front porches as a mechanism to create a coalition interested in developing the most promising opportunities for healthy longevity. With small successes, new groups will join these nascent communities, creating positive feedback loops that propel progress and over time change the aging narrative.
The combination of technological innovation, advances in behavioral economics and increasing health consumerism will rewrite the aging narrative. As solutions emerge to accelerate healthy aging, the emerging chapters are about empowering businesses and individuals alike to collect their longevity dividend.
For more on Engaged Aging and our series of papers, please visit ey.com/engagedaging.