It is no wonder many companies are beginning to explore the preferences of the aging population and consider what the transition will mean for their products, services, and workforce. Research organizations are devoting more resources to exploring the physical, mental, social, and other needs of older individuals and communities. Governments are facing a realignment of policy priorities, resources, political interests—and the very structure of their communities. Organizations are responding to this demographic transition with varying levels of success, but they share a number of shortcomings and obstacles.
Pace.Few organizations are responding to the needs and desires of the growing older population and even they cannot keep pace with the speed of the demographic transition.
Scale and Context. Research organizations and product developers don’t have the access or infrastructure they need to study populations of adequate size to demonstrate the effectiveness of technologies and other innovations. Additionally, most research is focused on the individual, without adequate attention to the context in which we age – the complex interplay of formal and informal caregivers, support organizations, social networks, and infrastructure in our communities.
Breadth. The demographic transition will impact communities in numerous ways—it will provide both opportunities and challenges related to housing, healthcare, retail, leisure, entertainment, finance and many others. Issues like technology and the workforce cut across industries. Thousands of companies, nonprofits, and research organizations conduct research and analyses in these areas, and thousands of community organizations provide services directly to older people. For the most part, these organizations deal narrowly with their specific perspective on the transition, contributing to the crowded, but siloed, nature of the market space and the lack of comprehensive approaches to healthy aging.
Knowledge sharing.There are inefficient market mechanisms and incentives for the exchange of knowledge about healthy aging and the population over 55.Given the number of organizations focused on this transition, there are robust data and models for healthy aging, but they haven’t been tested or proven on the scale needed.
Limited user engagement. Even as corporate and other researchers engage consumers or “users” earlier in the product development process, by and large they don’t consult older adults in meaningful ways or at a sufficient scale. Whether this is due to a view of older adults as an unfashionable customer segment or misperceptions that the needs of older adults are homogenous, there is a clear need to tap the wisdom of this group and understand its varied desires and preferences.
A framework for collaboration. Even assuming most organizations are aware of and interested in opportunities associated with the demographic transition, there is no framework for the kind of multi-sector collaboration needed to comprehensively address challenges associated with the impending transition. The organizations described above would all benefit from addressing certain issues together that none of them are willing or able to address individually.
Institute for the Ages is a direct response to these challenges. The Institute:
connects older adults with organizations that need their perspectives;
enables research and development on a community scale, with older adults in the community context – living not only in institutional settings, but in an interconnected, intergenerational place;
convenes and participates in multi-sector groups to address opportunities or problems related to the demographic transition; and
produces findings, products, services, tools, or approaches for people and organizations that need them, when they need them.