BWNH4C A 100-year-old man pictured on his birthday holding his telegram from the Queen, London, UK.
© Chloe Parker/Alamy

The demographic time bomb has finally exploded. Ten million people living in the UK are expected to live to the age of 100, according to new government statistics.

The implications for the way we live are profound — and the “longevity industry” has appeared as businesses seek to exploit new opportunities.

Some radical ideas for future living were explored at the recent Disruption Summit in London, bringing together international experts to discuss how business leaders and society as a whole can respond to the challenges of the 100-year life.

The emphasis at the summit was on the “longevity dividend” rather than the “ageing demographic time bomb”. Note the positivity. Many businesses see huge opportunities ahead because those over the age of 50 hold 70 per cent of UK household wealth. There is also employment potential for the young — a re-distribution of wealth where both sides win.

According to the summit’s organisers, today’s 75-year-olds are no older in health terms than 65-year-olds in the 1970s. By 2040, one in seven of the UK population will be 75 or older.

There are already 170 companies operating in the longevity industry in the UK, and the launch of the government’s £98m industrial strategy challenge fund (ISCF) for healthy ageing will provide a further boost.

Designed to open up big corporations to the opportunities an ageing population can offer, the £98m fund will drive the development of new products and services which will help people to live in their homes for longer, tackle loneliness and increase independence and wellbeing.

The challenge wants companies, health and care organisations and charities to work together to deliver new products, services, social and disruptive business models that will support older people in the UK and help them to remain active, productive, independent and socially connected. The competition is set to open later this year and the funding will run over two years.

The conference showcased several assisted living projects from Innovate UK, including Casserole, a food sharing network, and the After Work Club, a social network for men who don’t want to be “retired.”

The US tech industry is also chipping in. In Florida, an app called Papa Pals has been launched to match students with older people who need chores doing or who may be lonely. The idea came from the founder, Andrew Parker, who was frustrated that he could not spend enough time with his grandfather.

He wondered if surrogate grandchildren could fill the gap. Papa Pals students have to be on nursing or social care courses and have a four-door car so they can take their “grandparents” shopping or for medical appointments. They are often called upon to help with digital education, such as the setting up of computers or television services such as Netflix. The service costs $20 to $30 for a three-hour visit in Florida and Mr Parker now plans to launch in the UK.

“The one billion retired people globally are a multi-trillion dollar opportunity for business,” said Dmitry Kaminskiy, co-author of the UK Longevity Industry Report and managing partner of Deep Knowledge Ventures, who was a panellist at last week’s event.

He has offered a $1m prize to the first person to reach the age of 123 and break the existing old-age record. He called on the government to prioritise the development of artificial intelligence in the field of ageing research and preventive medicine, and bring the financial and longevity industries together.

Mr Kaminskiy claimed that NHS patient records were uniquely suited for driving the development of powerful algorithms that could transform healthcare and launch a new industry in AI-based diagnostics.

“Precision personalised diagnostics with a focus on preventive medicine may increase active productive life by 10 years,” he said. His research shows that the NHS currently spends most on chronic and last-stage diseases rather than preventing illnesses. “The successful implementation of longevity-focused practices will in the end yield a reduction in healthcare costs for the NHS,” he added.

He predicted that life-long education would be one of the biggest sectors in the longevity industry. New video games targeted at older people would help those living alone with their communication. The games would stimulate conversation by interacting at a personal level.

Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, is already providing support to many older people. The majority of Apple watch owners are over 45 and the only smartphone market segment still growing is one catering to the over-60s, according to Eric Kihlstrom, interim director of the government’s ISCF healthy ageing project. Although some 70 per cent of UK wealth is held by people who are over 50, he said the 60+ consumer was currently “invisible” in most consumer research.

Three million people in the UK have never used a computer. However, the iPad is filling the gap. Its graphical user interface has been found to offer many older people an easy way access the internet and useful apps.

Tina Woods, chief executive of Collider Health and the chair of the Future Health Collective, urged retail and energy firms to use their customer databases to harness the power of AI to develop products and services to keep the elderly healthier for longer in their own homes.

“Data are very exciting if we use them wisely and ethically to help people,” she said. Banks, supermarkets, energy firms, retail firms and leisure services had access to data that could be very useful in preventive health. Such companies could form strategic partnerships to realise the potential of data sharing and data philanthropy.

Professor Andrew Scott, author of The 100-Year Life: Living and Work in an Age of Longevity, predicted that the current three-stage life of education, career and retirement will be replaced by a multi-stage life with new stages, new ages and with the potential for much greater individualised sequencing

He told the summit there needed to be a change in attitude as baby boomers in the UK moved into their 70s, 80s and 90s. “The government has to be aware of the opportunities. We do not hear enough of the benefits of people living longer and healthier. If they stay healthy they work longer, pay more taxes, spend money and create jobs.”

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