IT and the Ageing Society

One of the frustrations (there are many joys) of thinking about the future is that some trends are clearly predictable but being right doesn't help. In the real world the urgent nearly always crowds out the important. By the time the important becomes urgent, there is not the time or resource available to deliver the optimal solution. For me one of those challenges is the ageing society.

Packing up to move home, I found some notes I made for the summary of an event I ran for a financial services company in 1992, at the tail end of the last recession. One of the external speakers had been lively and controversial but had stirred a lot of debate. Among my notes I picked up the following:

  • The pension fund holidays of the 80s will hurt for 50 years.
  • "the next recession will be the death knell of final salary pensions".
  • Retirement age will have to go up to 67 or 70.
  • A generation will face poverty in old age.
  • The cost of geriatric care will bankrupt the Welfare state.

Not bad set of predictions or observations for 17 years ago!

We hope we are at the tail end of another recession and it still feels as if we have not addressed the challenges of an ageing society. My ambition here is not to tackle the whole field of issues, but to ask, what is it that IT could do to help our society adjust to an ageing profile?

I went to Google and did a series of searches using "computing" IT "ageing society" and so on. I found lots of interesting stuff and many ideas. What I found missing was a coherent view of how Mainstreaming "IT and the ageing society" could help us tackle the social and economic challenges of our time. There are numerous pilots and lots of research projects which might provide evidence for a way forward.

The really interesting challenges to our profession in this space may be against the following issues:

  • What kind of interfaces (hardware and software) will be best suited for an ageing society? For example, the loss of sensitivity in the fingers with ageing and a growing trend to touch based interfaces may be a problem.

  • If more people have to work beyond current retirement age, how might we promote flexible working to allow for people to partly retire? We have 40 years of experience in the IT Industry of flexible working in IT, starting in the late 60s with women working alongside rearing children?

  • How can IT enable older people to stay in their own homes and live independently for longer? How can It help those people with long-term conditions manage their own condition more effectively and access health services more effectively.

  • How can IT help older people stay in touch with friends and family more easily and reduce feelings of loneliness? Can Social networks play a part in developing a sense of local community that engages the older community?

  • As we age, many of the services that people will need are very labour intensive, just at the time when the labour market will stop growing or shrink. How can we use IT to provide social care more effectively?

This is not an exhaustive list. A morning on Google has given me a partial answer to all these questions, but my overall impression is that it feels piecemeal and on too small a scale to address the needs of the UK.

There is of course a commercial potential if we could develop solutions and business models for this growing part of our society. It is a potential export market. It can impact Government, private and third sectors.

So, if you agree with me that this is important, how do we develop solutions before they become urgent?

We all have a hopefully enlightened self interest in tackling this area.

Live long and prosper!

About the author
Chris is a technology and policy futurologist. Chris has been in the IT industry since 1980. His roles have spanned Honeywell, ICL, HP, Microsoft and Capgemini. He is a Fellow of the BCS and a Fellow of the RSA.

See all posts by Chris Yapp
March 2018

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