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Increased longevity represents the biggest business opportunity of the 21st century. Far from being the burden predicted by many economists, many older consumers do not spend all their income and could be persuaded to spend more.

This was the view presented by Professor Andrew Scott, co-author of The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, at the Longevity Forum held in London last month. This is one of a growing number of longevity conferences and events aiming to unite academics, those operating in the longevity industry and potential investors.

Professor Scott reminded the audience that today’s 75-year-olds were no older in health terms than 65-year-olds were in the 1970s. He was speaking as the state pension age for men and women equalised at 65 years in early November.

Even more encouraging is research by Professor Laura Carstensen, director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity that shows 50 per cent of people aged 85 or older claim to be healthy enough to work.

“The government has to be aware of the opportunities. We do not hear enough of the benefits of people living longer and healthier,” said Prof Scott. “We also firmly believe that for the longevity ecosystem to function properly, greater awareness is needed earlier in the lifecycle to ensure that longevity turns into an opportunity rather than a burden on society.”

Venture capitalists were in the audience at the forum and several were among the judges of the Innovating for Ageing awards launched by the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK) and Just Group last January.

ILC-UK believes there is a clear need for innovation to address the challenges faced by consumers in later life. The awards aim to identify solutions to the most common, intractable causes of vulnerability among older consumers. The winner will receive £7,500 with the runner-up £2,500. They and other finalists will also receive specialist business support to help develop their propositions.

The ILC-UK advisory board and a team of judges have now reduced the 77 submissions to a short list of four finalists — and the winner will be announced next month.

There is even greater funding available from the government in the form of the £98m Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) for Healthy Ageing, aimed at driving the development of new products and services which will help people to live in their homes for longer, tackle loneliness, plus increase independence and wellbeing. It is expected that big businesses and start-ups will work together to develop these projects over the next two years.

The aim of the ISCF Healthy Ageing programme is to support the government’s mission for the Ageing Society Grand Challenge. People are expected to enjoy five more years of healthy independent life in their own homes by 2035, but the challenge is to narrow the gap between the experience of the richest and the poorest (measured through improvements in disability-free life expectancy).

While spending falls with age, companies providing products and services to help with healthy ageing have a big prize in their sights. More than one in 10 UK pensioners has total wealth of £1m or more, according to the Office for National Statistics Wealth and Assets Survey — making a total of more than a million pensioner millionaires in the UK. But not all pensioners are wealthy. One in eight has savings of less than £500.

Research by ILC-UK and Prudential found that while retirees have more assets than younger generations, they continue to save rather than spend. The combined annual savings of those in retirement is estimated to be about £49bn. Rather than spending their children’s inheritance on holidays and leisure, older people spend decreasing amounts on non-essentials. Much of their savings are held in interest-bearing accounts and the report says the financial services industry should consider how it can help retirees to maximise the return on these savings.

Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, says the ageing UK population will transform the jobs market, as more people work into their late sixties or even early seventies. And they will have a growing influence on consumer spending as pension reforms allow them to cash in their lifetime savings and spend the money as they wish. Industry needs to recognise that ageing is not a problem, but is an opportunity.

Innovating for Ageing

The finalists in the Innovating for Ageing awards bring together an array of products and services to help those in later life and their families.

The Behavioural Insights Team is a social purpose company that aims to connect the elderly through a low-cost and accessible buddying platform to combat social isolation.

Another finalist, the Chatty Café Scheme, wants cafés to set aside a table so that customers can meet others. The signage will encourage strangers to talk to each other. Sainsbury’s, the supermarket, has already launched a Talking Tables scheme in some of its cafés.

Digital Care Planning uses artificial intelligence-enabled voice technology to help individuals and families take an active role in planning and managing their care.

My Care Matters, a social enterprise, has created an online tool that collects and shares a person’s non-medical needs and preferences so they can receive dignified and tailored care when they are no longer able to engage in these conversations.

Echo is an app that allows users (either patients or carers) request NHS prescriptions and get medication delivered to the door with smart reminders of when to take the medicine and when they are soon to run out.

Ferret Information Systems aims to solve the problem of take-up of means-tested benefits among the elderly by developing a system that gives advance information about benefits entitlement.

Morgan Ash has produced a model of assessing vulnerable customers, similar to the techniques used to assess consumers for credit scores. The Society of Later Life Advisers (Solla) is creating a computer-based training programme that assists financial advisers in identifying vulnerability, understanding its impact and developing their advice practices accordingly.

A digital health monitoring and analytics platform has been devised by MySense that takes data from a number of fixed and wearable Smart devices to detect if there is a decline in an old person’s health or wellbeing.

Toucan is an app that lets users share their bank balance status with a trusted friend or carer using a simple traffic light system to inform them of their financial status.

Walk With Path is a company that has made a mobility aid in the form of a shoe attachment for those with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s. It is said to increase walking confidence. It was developed from first-hand observation by Lise Pape to help a relative. It is currently building relationships with charities and distributors, which will help gather more clinical data to support selling it into healthcare systems.

Memory loss is a growing sector for tech solutions. Unforgettable.org was established by James Ashwell to provide products for older people. He built on his experience of looking after his mother when she developed early-onset dementia. He was frustrated at not being able to find products that would help her.

The company designs what it calls “desirable, effective and affordable” products in partnership with its user community — those with dementia, memory loss and other challenges. Its website offers advice and support through its Caregivers’ Club. Among its products are clocks that give users verbal messages about the time, day and date. As memory loss progresses, the message can be simplified — stating only the day of the week and whether it is morning, afternoon or evening.

Radios and music players can be operated by one button or a number of buttons. Adam Vaughan, head of new product development and innovation at Unforgettable, says: “Primarily we want to help people to live in their homes for longer. We want people to keep active, physically and socially for as long as possible. Our aim is to normalise these products so they are more widely available in shops.” Lloyds Pharmacy already stocks many of their products.

Mr Vaughan said: “Music is incredibly powerful and doctors are beginning to prescribe it instead of drugs as it is the most effective non-clinical intervention in calming anxieties and helping to restore memory.”

The Longevity Forum wants to be part of many more developments. Prof Scott said: “We believe that in this new era of longevity, education, financial planning and scientific progress will be much more interconnected than ever, requiring an unprecedented period of collaboration between the public and the private sectors, science and society.”

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