Will Ageing Population Impact the Market for New Health Technologies?

Published on 10 Jun, 2021

A new demographic study indicates that the average age of global population is slowly increasing. Countries like Japan and the UK are already struggling with large sections of ageing population, and the other countries are not far behind. This presents immense opportunities for health tech companies to evolve and create products and services specifically for senior citizens. Digital technologies and artificial intelligence could enable provision of holistic care with individual attention at the convenience of patients, which would soon be the need of hour across nations. We believe that adoption of these technologies to their fullest potential would still take 5–8 years. Baby boomers and Generation-X may not benefit from these technologies; nonetheless, Millennials could leverage the technologies to gain significant improvements in life in the future.

Studies suggest that global demographics is continuously changing, with the death rate increasing and the fertility rate declining, which is leading to increased ageing population globally. As per the World Health Organization, the proportion of world’s population over 60 would double to 22% during 2015–50. Japan and Germany are countries with maximum old population; however, the other countries are not far behind. The cascading effect of this population decline can already be seen across the globe. For instance, maternity wards in Italy have started shutting down. Lack of population has led to the creation of “ghost city” in a small province in China. In Japan, diapers for adults are outselling those for babies, and in Sweden, cities are shifting resources for schools to elder care.

Ageing brings with itself a specific set of health issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, hearing loss, cataract and refractive errors, back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, depression, and dementia. Thus, specific technologies to manage the ageing population need to be developed.

The aged community needs a continuum of care as they are prone to illnesses. Early detection and monitoring of critical diseases, specifically diabetes, are advisable. Furthermore, there should be a provision for holistic care that involves all stakeholders (general physicians, dietitians, psychologists, etc.), focused on either curing or preventing the progression of diseases.

These objectives can be achieved by developing new technologies that focus on senior citizens and enable provision of better and timely care. Some of these emerging technologies are mentioned below.

  • Wearable devices – Wearable devices not only are convenient and easy to use but also offer a range of services that can aid the elderly. GoLiveClip, designed by Gociety Solutions, is a clip-on device for the aged having issues related to maintaining balance. It sends off an alarm to the caregiver when the wearer falls down; moreover, the device analyzes walking patterns and sends an alert when the fall risk increases. Also, AWAK Technologies has introduced a wearable portable dialysis device which saves the wearer from making a trip to the medical center.
  • Smart textiles – Innovation in technologies has led to the creation of smart textiles. These clothes are embedded with biosensors and are designed based on the age segment. For instance, Sensing Tex has developed a textile embedded with pressure sensors. This technology can be used in hospital beds to monitor abnormal positions or chances of falls in older patients. Also, Sensoria has developed smart socks that can monitor recovery of the elderly from an accident or stroke.
  • Robotics – The usefulness and efficiency of robotics are now coming to the fore. Companies like Softbank Robotics are developing social robots to provide companionship to elderly people living alone; thereby, these devices can help alleviate loneliness. Medical exoskeletons have also been developed to help aged stroke patients gain mobility faster.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) – The AI technologies have immense possibilities. For instance, speech analysis using Natural Language Processing helps to detect the onset of dementia. AI can also be used to power digital therapeutics.
  • Digital twin – The silver tsunami is approaching and physicians need tech-related help to deal with it. Digital twins could help bridge the gap between the real and the virtual. Digital twins, in combination with machine learning, could be used to create a genomic and phenotypic makeup of an elderly patient that could help in personalized medication without regular physical consultation.
  • Virtual reality (VR) – The VR technology can be used to support emotional well-being among senior citizens. It is a digital engagement tool for them. Using VR headsets, the elderly can see faraway places, surround themselves with nature, and in some cases, even visit familiar places like those which they grew up in. The headsets can also be used for treatments. For instance, Tribemix has introduced VR headsets for cognitive stimulation and training to help dementia patients.
  • Augmented reality (AR) – The AR technology has been making waves in the surgical field as it provides surgeons with a complete picture of the anatomy they work on. This is particularly helpful when the surgery is being performed on senior citizens as their general health is more fragile than that of younger individuals.

As described, these technologies have many benefits; however, there are obstacles that limit their wide-scale adoption. The foremost issue is the attitude and perception of the geriatric community toward new-age technologies. There is a general hesitation among the older generation to adapt to changes, specifically technology-related. Among some sections, there is digital inequality; moreover, they are not well-versed with using technical devices. This acts as a hurdle in the acceptance of technology-related solutions.

Furthermore, the older generation still believes in the traditional clinical appointments and doctor’s prescription. They view these technologies dubiously and do not have much faith in them. Some of these devices and treatments are also costly and beyond the budget of a certain section of society. Hence, even if there is willingness, there is a lack of means to adopt new technologies.

The benefits of technological innovations for the geriatric society far outweighs the hurdles. Technologies in this area would continue to see further research and innovation. As majority of the global population gradually becomes aged, the healthcare industry also evolves toward more advanced methods. In another few decades, there will be a massive rise in the number of people above 60 and medical centers will be short-staffed to handle this rise in demand. The emerging technologies and new ideas will then be needed to provide holistic care to the geriatric society, which would soon account for majority of global population.