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Isolated Seniors Could Be the Untapped Resource to Addressing an Ageing Future

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

An AI-generated image of four older women from a mix of ethnic backgrounds wearing high-vis PPE  having a lunch break at a construction site
Midjourney prompt: a construction site crew that's all older women of mixed races having lunch

A bizarre new world

In my last post I talked about projections from the US Census Bureau that forecast a moment around 2034 when there will be more people over the age of 65 in the US than there are children. And something similar is trending around the world.

So why is this happening? The root causes are complex, but the result is that populations are growing at a slowing rate (a lower rate of births) and people are living longer than they have in the past resulting in big changes to the demographic make up of societies over the long term. The upshot is that seniors are going to be a bigger part of our societies for longer.

But at the same time the way that modern life is transacted has dramatically transformed in the internet, smart device age. And many seniors are completely bewildered to do everything from engaging government and essential services to buying groceries and finding community activities.

They’ve lived through this sneaky era where fundamental technology skills and understanding have simply passed them by. The abilities they needed to function in society when they were young are completely eclipsed by abilities that no one has ever taken the time to explain to them in words and at a pace that they can understand.

Even simple questions, like “what’s a link,” require a lot of explaining for real understanding to be achieved. And most of us either don’t have the patience to explain technology in a way they can understand, or we just understand concepts because we’ve lived with them so long, and are not actually able to explain them.

Retire to loneliness? Let’s not!

Some seniors persevere, learning by doing, or having the good fortune of a resource able to teach them or take care of them. But the majority are not so fortunate or determined, and will endure deep frustration and resentment on their way to withdrawing into isolation.

Endemic isolation and loneliness among our parents and grandparents is obviously not how we or they would hope to live their final years. But the risks associated with isolation are much more practical than the social cost. Research is showing that loneliness has an adverse affect on how well the immune system function, leaving those who are chronically lonely more susceptible to disease.

Retire? What’s that?

As we forecast at what this future may look like, we can learn from the lessons of one country in particular. The inversion moment of the elderly to young ratio happen in 1997 in Japan. They currently have the lowest proportion of children in the world. And while the scope of the effects are unfolding, one thing has proven very clear: in order for an ageing society to remain functioning older people must keep working longer. In Japan the mandatory retirement age used to be 55. These days it’s creeping into the late 60s and beyond.

One conclusion we can draw from this research is that in addressing an ageing future preventative efforts that keep seniors skilled to engage in and contribute to society will serve to improve the health of seniors themselves while also reducing societal healthcare costs and investing in the workforce supply of the near future.


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