Our world is about to be turned upside down. Next year, the number of people 65 and older will outnumber children under age 5. Around the world, countries are preparing to meet the challenge of aging and its consequences.
At AARP, we’re focused not just on the historic burdens of aging but also on the potential historic benefits of living longer. We’re igniting a worldwide effort to disrupt aging. We want to create a new mindset around aging—a new way of thinking about possible solutions to help us live and age better. To do that, we often turn to Asia, which has some of the fastest aging populations in the world,[i] to see what we can learn.
We believe there is tremendous value in sharing information among nations, regions, communities, and organizations. Our international efforts are based on the premise that we can learn a lot from the experiences of other countries, and they can learn from our experiences as well.
In 2017, we decided to see how well prepared some of the world’s key nations are for the challenges and opportunities their societies face as they age. [ii] We teamed with FP Analytics to take an in-depth look at how 12 countries (including Japan, China, and Korea) are adapting their societies to an aging population. Together, these countries represent 61 percent of the global GDP and nearly half of the world’s population of people ages 65 and older.
The resulting “Aging Readiness and Competitiveness Report” (the ARC Report) identified creative programs to promote volunteerism and entrepreneurship, lifelong learning in finance and technology, support for caregivers, and intergenerational communities.
In 2018, we did a second ARC Report focused on 10 smaller economies around the world (including Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand) that are leaders in responding to demographic change. [iii] We found that many of these countries—all of which have less than 25 million people—tend to be more nimble and willing to innovate and find solutions for the realities of aging societies. (See both reports here).
While all these countries face formidable challenges as a result of their aging populations—especially those related to housing, mobility, isolation, finance, and health care—they are also coming up with innovative solutions to address many of these issues. For example:
China’s Silver Age Action Initiative taps into the knowledge and experience of retired professionals to advance economic and social development in regions of the country that are less developed.
In Singapore, Community for Successful Ageing takes a community-wide approach to offer an integrated system of comprehensive programs and services that promote health and well-being over the life course and enable aging in place. Led by Tsao Foundation, this model is built on collaboration with diverse stakeholders and community partners including NGOs, businesses, academia, and individuals.
Taiwan is the world’s first society where all its cities are committed to age-friendly initiatives. And that commitment is now spreading to smaller, local communities. Recognizing that the changing family structure is weakening a traditional source of care for many older adults, the government has stepped up efforts to build a formal long-term care system.
In Japan, the Silver Human Resource Centers (SHRC), which are fully funded by the national and municipal governments, provide community-based temporary and short-term job opportunities for older adults by matching job orders from private companies, organizations, and households with older job seekers. The SHRC also operates a Senior Work Program, which helps to improve the employability of older adults by providing free skills training and job interview preparation in cooperation with various associations of business owners and public institutions.
In Korea, the U-Health Advocacy Program is improving the accessibility of health-care services, especially for older adults who live in remote areas. One major component of the Program is “U-silver services,” which target recuperation of people age 65 and older, enabling them to order affordable, age-friendly products online. Two other components of the Program, “U-medical services” and “U-wellness services,” provide easier access to medical treatment services—such as providing prescription services regardless of patients’ location—and a physical checkup without going to a hospital.
While these innovations are redefining Asia, they are also demonstrating that when we adapt to our aging population, all members of society benefit. The challenge is to take advantage of the knowledge we gain from these experiences to create policies and programs that will help us live well every day.