Sunday, February 13, 2011

Baby-boomers as an "unfashionable demographic group?" Not!

We learned from a report in the New York Times recently that aging baby-boomers -- the first of whom are turning 65 this year -- are beginning to look like a market with "staying power." Until this generation those 65 and older were considered an "unfashionable demographic group" because retired people typically have hunkered down on fixed-budgets and spent less money, then faded away into old age. However, baby-boomers, 76 million strong, are reinventing the aging game, have money to spend and will not go quietly into the night. Right on!!
One demographer came up with a new word..."rehirement" to replace retirement. Meanwhile, some serious researchers at M.I.T.'s AgeLab are looking into all the interesting potential technology that will serve those of us on the plus side of 65.
According to the Times article:
- In 2009, baby-boomer households in the United States spent about $2.6 trillion. The estimates are from a consumer expenditure survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
-  The number of people worldwide age 65 and older will double by 2050 to 1.5 billion, up from 523 million.
- People over 65 will then outnumber children age 5 and younger for the first time in human history.
“No other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and policy making as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is aging.” said analysts at Standard & Poor’s who were quoted in the Times story written by C.J. Gunther.
So far it seems to me that banks, brokerage firms and financial planners are the only industries that see baby-boomers as a promising market. And even those businesses tend to see us as happy, graying couples that only want to play golf. Few companies, reports Gunther, have "applied creative intelligence to understanding older adults and developing game-changing technologies, services, experiences and even new careers for them."
Doing our own groundbreaking
I guess we'll have to do it on our own groundbreaking to find new ways to make life interesting. The trick is to stay healthy. This morning over breakfast coffee a 72-year-old friend of ours described his knee replacement surgery coming up next month.
"I literally had never had a surgery until three years I've had three," he said with some wonderment and concern. He prefers to live in the isolation of Eastern Washington, chops wood for fun and likes cross-country skiing. It's clear he has no intention of making a big change.
Hopefully the surgery will keep him going.
Josephy Coughlin, director AgeLab at M.I.T. told the Times that aging is a multidisciplinary phenomenon and requires new study tools to measure such things as change in body mechanics, eyesight and strength that all come with age.
Out with the "alert devices"In the past, if companies saw market revenue in emergency alert devices and automated stair-climbers, now new technologies and services will "promote wellness, mobility, autonomy and social connectivity," said the Times report. "These include wireless pillboxes that transmit information about patients’ medication use, as well as new financial services, like “Second Acts” from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, that help people plan for longer lives and second careers."
The whole idea is to give us more choices and flexibility in how we cope with aging and continue full lives into our 70s, 80s and even 90s as my mother has. What was her formula? Inherit good genes, stay fit and trim, remain active in social groups, garden, remarry at 79 after the death of her first husband and allow one of her daughters to move-in. She also gets care through weekly visits from a physical therapist, a cleaning lady and senior companion.
Industry analysts are beginning to understand the diversity and complexity of the mature market. It's already as multi billion-dollar industry. However, some economists, reports Gunther, see the exploding population of seventy- and eighty-somethings not as an asset, but as a looming budget crisis. By one estimate, "treating dementia worldwide already costs more than $600 billion annually," he found.
On the other hand, innovations that promote health and independence, delaying entry into long-term care may offer a potential savings to the health care system. Never mind that in my mother's case it is saving her thousands of dollars a month that otherwise would be going to a care facility.
Shoving it in our faces
Researchers are discovering that older people do not like to have the fact that they are old shoved in their face. My dentist for instance never uses the word old when he tells me that I need to floss more often.
At his blog called Distruptive Demographics, M.I.T. AgeLab Director Joe Coughlin offers insight into the study of aging and the demographics of aging in our society. At a recent "enterprise forum" in Seattle, Coughlin and his team presented some interesting trends about how about baby boomers and our aging demographics will shape the future. Here are five key findings:
No. 1 Baby Boomers Will Play a Key Role in the Adoption of Personal Connected Health because they will have more money, greater expectations and personal health as well as caregiving needs that will drive demand for health and wellness innovations.
No. 2. Personal Connected Health is a Component and Enabler of a Paradigm Shift to Patient-centric Approach. The baby-boomers are the leading edge and passionately vocal movement of consumers demanding patient-centric care. With 67 percent of the boomers having one or more chronic diseases they will seek technologies and services to manage and monitor their health - on their terms as consumers with demands, not simply as patients in need.
No. 3. The Imminent Explosion of Personal Health Data Will Create Opportunities for Entrepreneurial Problem-solvers. Consumer demand is only one part of innovation. Technology serves as inspiration and catalyst. The report observes that the ready availability of new wireless, mobile and ubiquitous smart everything present an endless possibility of health devices and services.
No.4. Lasting Behavioral Change Requires Incentives and Social Support Mechanisms. As noted in other posts on, social media is not just for kids any more. The report authors aptly observe that Web 2.0 will be key in developing the social support necessary for healthy and lasting behaviors.
No 5. The U.S. Northwest has the Ingredients for the Creation of Personal Connected Health Business Ecosystem. The report identifies boomers, technology and health as an opportunity for the Pacific Northwest. As many regions around the world are beginning to recognize – aging is not simply a demographic reality but a possibility to create an industry to drive economic development. Regions that can blend a rich research base, venture capital, entrepreneurial spirit and have access to a test bed of creative health providers can create the new business of old age benefiting their economies and the quality of life of everyone across the lifespan.
All I know is that until my mother reached her late 80s, she lived almost independently despite a stroke, which meant she could no longer drive. Now all she needs is a telephone by her chair and a TV channel changer. As for me, I'm counting on the pharmaceutical industry to come up with a good drug to combat arthritis, then everyone else can just stay out of my way.

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday, I was one of the few who actually felt the earth tremor that occurred around 10:30 a.m. My granddaughter commented to friends on Facebook, "Interesting... nobody knew about that except my grandma... and we thought she was just going crazy." Typical teen reflection of 'grandma'. I chided her for referring to her grandmother like this as she is the one I bike 10-12 miles with, she invites me to go to talk at Starbucks; she would admit to me as an atypical grandmother. I recently enrolled in 'hot yoga' which is very good for arthritis and whatever ailments Baby Boomers experience; its like a sauna treatment along with great toning and fitness routine. But I'm with you, 60+ is not the time to retire to the recliner. I am in total agreement with changing the concept of 'retiring' to rehiring. It would be interesting to look at opportunities in second careers unique to the woman who still has an abundance of life to give.