By Juliet Rowan
Worldwide, populations are ageing and people are living longer. Average life expectancies increased three decades in the 20th century, and according to the Global Coalition on Aging, by 2020 there will be more than 1 billion people over 60 years old worldwide. In the developed world, there are already more people over the age of 60 than under 15, and experts tell Juliet Rowan businesses ignore the demographic shift at their peril. The time has come, they say, to look for opportunity among the ageing baby boomers and embrace the burgeoning "silver economy"
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Innovation and ageing might seem counter notions, but Carole Gordon says otherwise.
The Tauranga social scientist is a passionate advocate for older people and says huge opportunities exist for younger generations in the silver economy.
"The millennials need to see this population-ageing phenomenon and look at it and say, 'What is the business opportunity here for me to innovate a new product, or to serve this group and their need to have quality of life'?"
The silver economy is now the third largest in the world, the European Commission defining it as "new market opportunities arising from public and consumer expenditure related to the rights, needs and demands of the growing population over 50".
A Silver Economy Symposium is to be held in Tauranga on August 11, bringing together business leaders, policymakers and other experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities relating to increased longevity and the ageing of the postwar baby boomer generation.
Minister for Seniors Maggie Barry is the opening speaker and international expert Michael Hodin, who is executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, is scheduled to appear by video link from the United States.
Dr Hodin plans to talk about the ways in which the policy and business worlds are beginning to leverage this new environment and lessons for New Zealand to help capture the ageing opportunity.
"This demographic trend will transform markets, workplaces and communities, and if properly addressed, can create new pathways for economic growth," he says.
The Silver Economy Symposium is a collaboration between Seniors United to Promote Age Friendly New Zealand (Supa-NZ) and the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, and interested members of the public may register to attend.
Carole Gordon, who is national convener of Supa-NZ, says a cultural shift is needed to recognise the fact that "mature and older people" - as she likes to call the 65-plus demographic - are a growing economic force.
"Because we have notions of retirement, which is getting-ready-to-die stuff, we don't have notions of later life being full and active and engaged and keeping the economy going."
According to investment firm Merrill Lynch, the global silver economy is already worth $7 trillion annually - and will more than double to $15 trillion per year by 2020.
In New Zealand, total consumer spending by people aged 65 plus is expected to reach $65 billion by 2051, representing an almost five-fold increase from $14 billion in 2011.
"Mature and older people still have their haircuts and buy their bread and butter, and they still put petrol in their car and do all the things that other people of other ages do, plus they spend more on healthcare and they've got more money to spend on things that give their lives enrichment and pleasure," says Carole.
She says while a proportion of older people have limited incomes, a majority flip side exists: "There are the most wealthy people that we've ever had, and many of them choose to come and live in the Bay of Plenty and Tauranga."
Carole refuses to use the word elderly and says the growing strength of the silver community is already visible in Tauranga, giving the example of the thousands of older cruise ship passengers who regularly arrive on our shores.
While the ageing population's increasing economic might appears undeniable, Carole says older people continue to be ignored in a wider sense, particularly by policy-makers and businesses.
"They're not on the page in terms of understanding the downside that is potentially going to happen as traditional businesses fail because they're not targeting the new paradigm.
They're not looking at the capacity of older people because they've never looked at it before, and so they don't culturally know to look at it now. It's what I call deep ageism."
On demographics alone, the argument for governments and companies to shift their focus to older people is strong - the Bay being a case in point.
In 2013, less than 20 per cent of the region's population was aged 65 plus, but fast forward two decades, and it is expected to be a third of residents.
Carole says older people, and particularly women, have traditionally been invisible members of society, and everything, including the design of our urban environments, is targeted at the young.
"We have a very strong youth culture in New Zealand, and it's not to deny youth - that's lovely - but we don't have a place for older people. You will see spaces in old cities [overseas] where older people can sit and enjoy the sun and have a natter and engage in chess or games or dance together."
Older people are living longer, more active lives, she says, and key to managing their growing numbers is creating more caring communities. "That leads back into good urban design, and neighbourhood parks and neighbourhood shopping, and little buses that will help you to get buying your milk, bread and butter."
Or delivery services, Bay of Plenty Times Weekend suggests. "Then you start to reach to the innovation side," Carole replies.
She tells a story about the way a grassroots silver economy can flourish, bringing with it social and cultural benefits for the older population.
"Let's say Billy loves to get out and drive his car, but he doesn't have lots of reasons to get out in the car every day, and so he might offer to be a car driver. And then Muriel, who has given up driving and is a bit frail, but needs to get to all these specialist appointments, she rings into this community connecting point, and they then connect with Billy, and he says, "I'll happily take Muriel'."
Muriel pays Billy a little to cover his costs, continues Carole, and everyone is a winner.
"He gets an outing; he feels good. They have a chat, she feels safe, and the whole thing is a positive framework."
While policy-makers may be playing catch-up, Bay businesses are beginning to realise the worth of the silver economy.
Mt Maunganui's Smartmed Pharmacy is one firm catering to the needs of older people by specialising in dispensing medications to rest homes.
Smartmed uses robotic equipment to supply 800 residents at 12 rest homes with their medications, also providing the robotic Mediroll service to community patients.
Several Tauranga pharmacies use robotic dispensers and Smartmed pharmacist manager Peter Bremner says the technology plays a big part in providing the rest home service.
"We probably wouldn't be able to do what we do without a robotic dispenser. It's been a game-changer," he says.
Using Mediroll, the pharmacy can dispense a month's supply of medicines to a patient at a time, each supply tailored to the individual.
The machine dispenses a single dose of medication into a sachet and labels it with the patient's name, medication, and the date and time the dose needs to be taken. The machine then seals the sachet, before dispensing the next dose in the next sachet, until a large roll of sachets emerges.
Doses are dispensed chronologically and patients tear off each sachet as needed, helping reduce the chance of medications being taken incorrectly. Peter says the technology for robotic dispensing has been around almost 20 years, but has only been available within community pharmacy in the last decade. "It is becoming increasingly popular as the cost of installing and maintaining the technology is coming down."
nother initiative to benefit older people in the Bay is Shopmobility.
Through her job, occupational therapist Yvonne Hartwell became aware of people finding it difficult to do their shopping and learned of an American product called a "mart cart".
She teamed up with the product's local representative, Gary Darkes of Mart Cart NZ, and began a campaign to educate supermarket owners about the number of people who find it difficult to shop independently.
Yvonne says mart carts are specifically designed for malls and supermarkets. "[Mart carts] go 5km an hour [with a] tight turning circle and have a good sized basket on front. You can stand from the seat to reach items and the cart will stop automatically."
The carts are already in Pak'n Save and New World supermarkets in locations including Mt Maunganui, Papamoa, Tauranga and Rotorua, and there are plans to extend the service.
"We want Shopmobility to be recognised nationally so all less able people are able to participate in this basic task we all take for granted."
Innovating in the silver sector has already paid off for Katikati company Triodent, which specialises in designing and manufacturing cutting-edge dental products. In 2014, it was sold to one of the world's largest dental products companies, Dentsply, after already making more than $90 million in export earnings.
Dental care is one of a range of health-related and other industries flourishing in the face of the world's ageing population. A Merrill Lynch report titled "The Silver Dollar" identifies several such industries, including the grandparent economy, or the growing amount of spending by grandparents on their grandchildren.
The report identifies the grandparent economy alone as "a powerful and underestimated economic force", while saying the longevity sector will account for more than half of GDP in the United States and Japan by the 2030s.
But all this ageing is not without economic negatives and a growing need to keep older, skilled people in the workforce.
New Zealand's population of people aged 65 plus is set to double in the next 20 years to 1.5 million people, and coupled with a declining birthrate, there will be fewer young workers to take up the slack.
Economic commentator Bernard Hickey says the cost of pensions and healthcare will rise from the current 11 per cent of national GDP to 16 per cent by 2040.
"That will increase the amount of work in health and aged care, but will also increase the strain on existing taxpayers."
Hickey, who is speaking at the Silver Economy Symposium, says companies need to employ experienced and skilled people for longer, "which means holding on to workers well after the age of 65".
The flip side of the workforce equation was also crucial: "Employees will need to keep working to top up their incomes from NZ Super and build up their savings to cope in a world of very low interest rates."
Minister for Seniors Maggie Barry says she campaigns against age discrimination in the workplace and says businesses need to plan to recruit older workers. "I urge employers who might think twice about hiring older workers to consider how they can get ready for the increased number of older workers ... I don't like to hear people suggesting having more older people around is a bad thing for New Zealand."
The Global Coalition on Aging says older people can be drivers of productivity and wealth creation by remaining active, engaged and working. "Capturing this workforce engine will necessitate workplace adaptations, new definitions of retirement and savings, and investment in lifelong training and education."
Carole Gordon says Britain is already facing a skills shortage because of its ageing population, and is offering financial incentives, flexible/part-time hours and age-friendly work environments to encourage older people to remain in their jobs.
Carole completed an honours degree in social science at age 64 and says New Zealand needs to embrace an ethos of lifelong learning and change the perception that people in later life are not productive, useful or able to learn.
Bay of Plenty regional councillor Paula Thompson, another speaker at the symposium, says retaining older people's skills will be crucial to keeping the local economy buoyant.
"We're going to be competing not only on a national level, but on an international level for skills."