With overall social development advancing, the number of elderly people in the Asia Pacific region is rising at an unprecedented rate. While increasing longevity is a positive outcome of social, economic, and technological development, a rapidly aging population can be a challenge, not only to pension systems but also to sectors including health, finance, long-term care, social protection, education, labour, housing, transport, information, and communication.
The World Bank’s statistics below show that the population aged 65 and above had nearly tripled in the past 20 years, reaching 297,402,740 in 2021. This trend will continue throughout the first half of the 21st century. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), by 2050, one in four people in the Asia Pacific region will be over 60 years old. The population of older persons (aged over 60) in the region will triple between 2010 and 2050, reaching close to 1.3 billion.
Figure 1: The growth trend of the elderly population in the Asia-Pacific region over the past 30 years
As the world’s most populous region with a rapidly ageing population, elderly care is a growing concern for policymakers in the Asia Pacific region. Different territories are taking different approaches, but many have recognised the importance of creating new biopharmaceutical and technical healthcare solutions, as well as innovation in the administration and management of elderly care systems. Noteworthy highlights include:
Elderly care regulations play a crucial role in providing high-quality care services for older people. These regulations, established by government bodies, aim to protect the rights, well-being, and dignity of older individuals while maintaining a high standard of care within the industry. However, in the Asia Pacific region, there is a disparity in the development of elderly care systems, with low-to-middle-income countries relying heavily on informal care, while high-income countries boast better access to services and higher levels of regulation.
To ensure older people’s quality of life, it is essential to find more comprehensive approaches to regulating aged care services. A robust regulatory framework, including inspections for compliance, and the establishment or strengthening of quality standards, indicators, and staff ratios, is necessary to deliver safe and high-quality care to older individuals. Two key areas where elderly care can be improved are:
These approaches and others will continue to strengthen the elder care system in the coming years, bolstering efforts to improve the sector qualitatively.
“Healthy ageing” has been defined as “the optimisation of functional capacity within the constraints of normal age-related physiological, psychological, and sociological changes.” However, while people are living longer today, they are not necessarily living better.
In the face of a rapidly ageing population, governments and businesses worldwide are investigating and investing in strategies and initiatives that support healthy ageing to ensure that they have a sufficient and productive workforce that can sustain their respective economies.
Furthermore, the United Nations has also marked the 2020s as the “Decade of Healthy Ageing”. The United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing is a global collaboration that was established to allow everyone to add life to years, ensuring that they enjoy good health and well-being. A four-pronged approach has been identified and consists of: 1) changing how we think, feel, and act towards ageing; 2) cultivating age-friendly environments; 3) creating integrated and responsive healthcare systems and services; and 4) and ensuring access to long-term care for older people who need it. In the Asia-Pacific region, governments are establishing policies and investments that align with these strategic priorities.
By prioritising healthy ageing, governments can turn the challenge of ageing populations into a “silver dividend”, an area of unexpected value, by introducing policies for technologies that improve elderly people’s health, extend skills and working lives, and facilitate employment. Improved health and longevity encourage a segment of older workers (aged 55-64) to stay in or reenter the labour force while falling birth rates are forcing countries including China, Japan, and South Korea to delay retirement to maintain working population sizes.
As medical technologies and care options continue to advance, an ageing workforce may no longer be seen as an impediment to an economy’s innovative capacity or economic growth. Five types of technologies can take action to support economic growth by positively affecting the use of enhanced human capital, including:
|Substituting labour and skills
|Complementing labour and skill
|Aiding education skills development and lifelong learning
|Batter matching workers with jobs and tasks
|Extending healthy lives and overall life expectancy
– Industrial and service robots
– Robotic process automation
|– Physical augmentation
– Virtual office and remote work
– Collaboration tools
|– Online learning courses
– Education management systems
– Lifelong learning platforms
|– Job portals
– Social networking job or career sites
– Cloud platform for specific tasks
– Career guidance
|– Digital therapeutics
– Remote patient monitoring
To best make use of these technologies, the most suitable policy agenda for a given market depends based on its economic development, level of education, and projected distribution of economically active individuals as of 2050. In Asia Pacific, four distinct profiles can be created based on their speed of ageing and median education levels:
Fast-Ageing, Above Median Education:
These territories are experiencing a radical shift from young low-educated workers to older and more educated workers, such as Japan and South Korea.
Fast-Ageing, Below Median Education:
These territories historically had low levels of education, especially among the younger economically active population, such as Bangladesh and Maldives
Slow-Ageing, Above Median Education:
These territories have a younger population that will complete tertiary education, such as Mongolia and the Philippines.
Slow-Ageing, Below Median Education:
These territories have a slower pace of societal aging and progression of education attainment, such as Cambodia and Nepal.
These group-specific patterns help identify appropriate solutions for each country type. Countries that are fast ageing and have above-median education levels would benefit from adopting automation and labour-augmenting technologies to supplement their low supply of labour for routine work. In contrast, fast-ageing and below-median-education countries need to prioritise policies that build a high-educated workforce and reskill older primary-educated workers. Technologies that aim to boost health and longevity are beneficial to both types.
As Asia Pacific continues to age rapidly, elderly care will continue to grow in importance as a key aspect of healthcare systems across the region. MNCs are well advised to consider synergies in their product portfolios that match this trend while staying abreast of the latest regulations and national policies affecting this domain. This sector is a critical area to watch in the Asia Pacific region in the coming years.