By Maura Dilley
“Aging is the adults version of the birds and the bees, we need to talk about it.” — Rob Lowe
Rob Lowe, a seemly ageless Hollywood actor, was a keynote speaker at this year’s Social Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley. He was speaking (and sparkling) as a brand ambassador for Genworth, a leading provider of long-term care insurance, attempting to bring the subject of an aging America out of taboo and into the limelight. Rob wants you, me and Ann Perkins to get our house in order for retirement while we’re young and healthy. Good message, but what more needs to be said about aging, social innovation and the business of our near, gray future?
I caught up with Janice Luvera, global brand leader for Genworth, and Dr. Edward Schneider, dean emeritus and [rofessor at the University of Southern California’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, to dig deeper.
Aging by the numbers
- 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day between now and 2030 – nearly seven every minute.
- The Department of Health and Human Services projects that the U.S. population older than 85 will more than double by 2040.
- Americans older than 40 are more likely to plan for their death than plan for their long-term care needs. While two-thirds have discussed funeral arrangements with loved ones, fewer than half have talked about their preferences for the care they might need as they age.
Choose more now or choose less later
Looking 2o years in the future, Dr. Schneider sees a stark dichotomy between calamity and opportunity. A future with business-as-usual for elder care invites government services to be overwhelmed with care costs for the elderly; services will be delivered badly due to financial constraints and poor design begetting a social crisis where people young and old attempt to meet their needs in frustration with little maneuvering space.
On the flip, aging America could be seen as an opportunity: firstly to confront our fears and change our mindsets around aging, but also for innovation. It’s an opportunity to come up with products and services that perform better than what we have now, that deliver with dignity and with appropriate business models and that meet families where they are. Choosing to engage this opportunity now means a wide-open field for experimentation and improvement, as well as generating more choices for the future.
America requires disruptive, social innovation to age right
Despite these staggering facts and marketing stunts, critical thinking about aging was conspicuously absent from the conversation at the Social Innovation Summit. What will it mean for America, and American business, when the retirement and long-term care boom hits us in full?
Simply put, you and everyone you know will grow to a state where you are no longer able to care for yourself; your care by others will be expensive, and you have no more than four options for managing this inevitability.
- Invest in a long-term care policy;
- Self-finance your long term care – warning, nursing home care costs an average $87,000 per year;
- Beseech the support of a family member or friend who will care for you – warning, caregivers spend an average of $8,000 of their own money when providing care for their loved ones, or;
- Try Medicaid – hitch, you may need to run down your assets to the poverty line before you can qualify.
Which will you choose, which will your peers choose and how will those choices shape America? There are many theories as to why and how the subject of long-term care is so unimaginable and inert for the average American, but the impact on families will be huge without immediate evasive action.
And yet there is vast opportunity here. In the government sector, we need human-centric public services that are purpose-fit to meet real needs of the elderly and their families. For social innovation inspiration, we could look to the service design trend percolating in the U.K. — redesigning government services. In the medical field, there is so much to be done from telemedicine to training – how do you attract talent to long-term elder care when your nursing home isn’t wage competitive with McDonald’s? And in design, what potential can be uncovered for increased wellbeing, mobility and independence as we age, with Google’s driverless car, interior design tweaked for cognitive impairment, and senior housing that supports continued social interaction of seniors with society at large. New products and services need to be investigated, prototyped and launched immediately, and the social innovation crowd should be leading this charge.
Image courtesy of Genworth