Many countries in the Western World, including Australia, are facing the challenges of looking after ageing populations. We're now seeing Baby Boomers (usually defined as those born from 1946 to 1962) move into retirement, with a proportion of older boomers either accessing aged care services or even entering aged care residences, which is a significant change in the lives of these people. 

All this is happening at an unprecedented rate, not only because of the demographic swell of boomers, but also because we are, on average, living longer and healthier lives, and working longer too. According to recent figures, Australia has the third highest life expectancy age in the world at 82.5 years, just after Switzerland, 82.7, and Japan, 83.3.

In his appendix to the Aged Care Financing Authority Second Annual Report 2014, Professor Graeme Hugo noted four critical demographic factors to consider about Australia's ageing population:

  • The ABS anticipates the number of people aged 65 plus in Australia will increase by 84.8% - from 3.1 million to 5.7 million - between 2011 and 2031.
  • The proportion of people aged 65 plus will increase from 13.8% in 2011 to 18.7% in 2031.
  • The financial and social characteristics of the ageing cohort will play a part in policy decisions: “Baby boomers differ in a myriad of ways from the previous generation of older people, and this will also have a major impact on the nature of the care and residential arrangements which they need, seek, prefer and can pay for.”
  • "Finally, the geography of the next generation of the older Australian population will be different to that of the previous generation." Which means ageing populations don't live where aged care facilities are now located.

It's not only Western countries confronting this issue. Nations like China and Japan are also grappling with lopsided demographics, with younger generations left to pick up some of the bill.

We're talking about a serious international problem for many societies and their politicians. Which also means we're talking about a potentially tremendous opportunity for businesses and smart entrepreneurs who can find, and treat, the pain points of ageing.

As with almost every other aspect of our lives these days, many think technology holds one of the primary keys to how we will look after ourselves and our loved ones as we grow older. Entrepreneurs are already exploring tech-based solutions for aged care issues like in-home care, incontinence, mobility, and social isolation.

Australian company Simavita is in the business of high-tech incontinence solutions. The ASX-listed company “develops and markets advanced systems associated with smart, wearable and disposable technologies for the aged and disabled care market and also for the global diaper manufacturing industry.” 

Its primary technology is a sensor system that helps both individuals and carers better manage toileting. Anyone who has worked in aged care, or knows someone who is incontinent, will know that poor management of this condition can cause serious health problems. As Simavita says on its website: “When you take away the guesswork, health, safety and dignity are restored.”

Euromonitor International estimated the adult incontinence market in the US was worth around $2 billion in 2016 and forecast to grow at 6-8% over the next five years to 2021. That’s just a small slice of the massive overall opportunity in aged care and ageing.

Two groups of potential entrepreneurs are well-situated to tap into this burgeoning market for aged care products and services: older people whom themselves are experiencing some of the problems associated with ageing; and the women who already make up the bulk of the aged care workforce. 

Of course, it's entirely possible younger people can come up with excellent solutions to problems experienced by people twice and thrice their age. However, entrepreneurs tend to look to their own experiences and lives when they think about developing products and services.

Vastly more women than men work in the aged care sector. According to data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, women make up 82% of the residential aged care workforce overall, and 37% of the CEOs in this sector are women. Many workers in the sector, including those that go onto senior positions, come from nursing or social work backgrounds, both disciplines dominated by women. It's not necessarily a guarantee that entrepreneurial innovation will originate from this pool, but the numbers do at least tilt towards such a possibility. 

Aged care, and ageing generally, might not be sexy. However, it's set to grow and is on the radar of government and the private sector. Consumers will be looking for products and services that help them age gracefully and in good health. Investors will be looking for great ideas and smart people to provide the products and services those consumers are starting to demand. Smart entrepreneurs will be thinking about how technology can be used to meet these demands.