Last week, I attended Aging in America 2018 (AIA), the American Society on Aging’s annual conference. It’s no secret we have a burgeoning aging population in America. The number of Americans ages 65 and older will more than double from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060. Once a year AIA brings together industry, government, and nonprofit leaders as well as consumer advocates to discuss what it means to grow old in our country, from social activism to health impact, retirement and home building design.
It’s a conference I look forward to every year. Growing up, each of my grandmothers came to live with us late in life. The concepts of assisted living facilities or 55+ active communities filled with golfing and sunset cocktails on the veranda weren’t in their future. Those experiences showed me what it was like to lose your independence, leave friends and community and all that was familiar behind, to suddenly realize you had to arrange for someone to take you somewhere – anywhere. Like so many professionals at AIA18 – I am driven by a need to improve the environment seniors interact with daily.
Innovating for Aging
At this year’s conference, there was a powerful entrepreneurial spirit from groups like Aging 2.0, an organization pairing up start-ups and the VC community to create devices that can combat such issues as isolation and protection against falls. AARP Foundation’s Hatchery was showcased, boosting innovators coming up with new technology every day to improve medication adherence and reduce costs. And Hasbro of all companies – a brand synonymous with toys for children is now turning out gamification solutions targeting seniors, bringing the brand much closer to its guiding Purpose: to make life better for children and families. Start-ups like Electronic Caregiver are transforming homecare through connectivity. The Administration for Community Living is dispelling the perception of federal agencies stuck in the past with novel partnerships with Georgia Tech around universal bathroom design. As one speaker put it, “Is technology changing aging or is aging changing technology?”
Brain Health Remains Paramount – and Communication of Progress is Critical
There’s no question challenges remain, as a closing session on Alzheimer’s Disease, which remains a top 10 cause of death in the US, reminded me. But even there we see hope. Although news headlines may suggest there is nothing but failure on the drug market, with each negative study outcome, pharmaceutical companies are learning about safety profiles, impact of earlier intervention and genetics. As marketing professionals, we have a critical role in helping to tell that story in a way that denotes hope and progress – and encourages participation in clinical trials. Caregivers – many of whom are dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease in the home – are beginning to be recognized. Studies show one in 10 caregivers are aged 75 or older. One in four are millennials. Employers are beginning to recognize that caregiving is a workplace issue and a legislative issue, not just a personal issue. We can help bring those stories to the forefront, to inform policy, to articulate specific needs and accommodate in our own companies.
Doing Well by Doing Good
Held during the same week as AIA and a partner of the conference, the 15th Annual What’s Next Boomer Business Summit had a distinct emphasis on purposeful business. Keynote speaker Falon Fatemi, founder of NODE, has now made it her mission to bring together undiscovered links between businesses and people that could be used to connect them in impactful ways and in her words, “coming up with ideas that make the world a better place.” AARP California State Director Nancy McPherson’s summary of the state of caregiving in America called for public/private and industry/nonprofit partnerships, acknowledging “this is too big for any one organization to handle.” Large employers should consider the challenge as caregiving transforms from a personal issue to a workplace and legislative issue. Work productivity and workforce talent are directly impacted as Millennials balance work and taking care of an aging family member.
We are in a new age of aging, one that is shifting from cost and burden to innovation and opportunity. It’s a field that is industry agnostic – because aging impacts all of us, across every sector of life. For brands with the foresight to zero in on the health and welfare of their consumers and their employee base, the future is bright.