Why healthtech needs to unlock the longevity dividend
04 July 2021 | 0 Comment
The ageing global population is one of the biggest challenges our era.
Driven by declining birth rates and increased life expectancy, the ratio of older adults to working age adults is becoming unsustainably high. This is especially true in western countries such as the UK and U.S. which saw post WWII population growth – a generation who have had access to higher standards of living and rapidly advancing health care; these so-called baby boomers are now in their 60’s and 70’s and are likely to live for many more decades, not just years. This means fewer working aged people to drive economic growth and provide informal care, and to finance formal care.
The greatest economic challenge of the next 50 years is going to be how to unlock to maintain the health and productivity of middle-aged adults – moving them from a cost burden on the economy and instead to deliver a “longevity dividend”.
Why is this so important?
In short, the longer someone lives in declining health, the greater the financial and resource burden they place on family, friends, community and taxpayers.
Take the UK for example where the current state pension of £164.35 per week is around 50% below the poverty line.
Gone are the days of retiring at 60, with an expected life expectancy of 70. Children born today will realistically face the prospect of retiring at 75 and living to be 100 years old. These years of inactivity and declining health mean many will outlive their own personal savings, placing a cost and emotional burden onto young people; primarily family and taxpayers.
Whilst longevity itself is perceived as a good thing, what we’re now seeing is not just people living longer, but living longer in declining health. And, this means a rapidly increasing cost of care and burden on families, health services and the taxpayer.
In turn this has fuelled massive disparities and inequalities in access to healthcare and to services.
It is the disparity between those with wealth, who can access good health care, and those without that we must tackle. Healthtech therefore needs to focus on unlocking a “longevity dividend” – moving away from delaying death, to instead focussing on enabling people to take ownership of their health by better identifying, managing and tracking health, wellness and happiness.
As healthtech develops so emerges opportunities for the better management of long term conditions such as diabetes, cardio-vascular conditions, obesity and loneliness – all of which create underlying health vulnerabilities but which if managed correctly could substantially improve public health.
By enabling the middle-aged population (those aged 55-75 years) to live healthier, happier and more productively into later life they can continue to work and be economically active for longer. A more experienced and diverse workforce reduces wealth inequalities and helps with the retention of skills and knowledge in the workplace.
By remaining healthier, independent and active economic contributors for longer will in turn reduce pressure on state pensions as well as reduce commitments from private pensions. Unlocking capital to invest in the economy while moving older adults from a cost to a dividend, will help balance the economy and reduce the burden on future generations. The value of the “longevity dividend” to the UK economy alone has been estimated to be as much as 2% of GDP.
We also expect to see an increased trend towards phased retirement – with many older adults opting (or being unable) to ever fully stop working.
As people move from working age into phases of semi-retirement and then full retirement, so healthtech will increasingly focus on home-based care. Delivering care and providing the independence to live in their homes requires ways of supporting older adults both through social inclusion, engagement and remote well-being monitoring.
The opportunity in healthtech and more specifically remote care and telemedicine are huge; driven by advances in voice activation, wearables, data curation and the development of entire sectors of new services and goods.
Longevity is a global challenge, but it will be a booming sector in which the UK is primed to be a world leader; not just for economic gain but most importantly societal level impact for good.