Published in February 2013 by NESTA (the UK’s innovation foundation), the report’s title refers to the rate at which the UK population is ageing: five hours a day, or nearly three months a year.

The report sets out Nesta’s thoughts on the impact of ageing on society and what that means in terms of innovation. It makes the case for a systematic look at how we live in the context of changing demographics, with a priority on the issues which have most impact on older people’s lives:

  • To have a sense of purpose – feeling useful and valued as an employee, volunteer, mentor, entrepreneur, employer, hobbyist or source of advice with a cup of tea;
  • To have a sense of well-being – living as well as possible with health conditions, being physically active and emotionally resilient
  • To feel at home, independent and connected to others – wherever we’re living

The report provides a number of case examples grouped under these headings as well as analysis of the demographic changes and current approaches to innovation, and the requirements for systemic change.

Demographic changes

  • Three factors are combining to change the age profile: increases in individual life expectancy; the post-war “baby boomer” population bulge (a temporary but significant affect); and migration.
  • The larger population of the ‘older-old’ is particularly important: the UK population aged 80+ is projected to grow from 3 million people in 2009 to 8 million by 2050.
  • Overall, we are ageing with more long–term conditions and, whilst in England people aged 65 were living, on average, more healthy years in 2010 compared with 2005, this was not the case in Scotland or Northern Ireland
  • Every year, half a million people die in the UK, but discussions about death and particularly about ‘dying well’ are rare.  Approximately 60 per cent of people die in acute hospital, although nearly 74 per cent would actually prefer to die at home.
  • UK is not alone: this is a global trend which the United Nations describes as
    • Unprecedented – without parallel in human history;
    • Pervasive – a global phenomenon affecting everyone but with countries at different stages of the process and with different paces of change. Countries that started the process later will have less time to adjust.
    • Enduring – we will not return to the young populations of previous generations.

Current approaches to innovation
The report identifies four ways in which the current approach to innovation in ageing is not working and why there is a clear imperative for a new approach:

  1. Social innovation lags behind technological innovation: our social institutions – such as social care and the labour market – feel increasingly archaic, inflexible and out–of–step with the new demographic reality.
  2. We are defining ageing by what it is not: the current focus on dependency, challenges and costs is misleading. Older people are more likely to set up successful new businesses, provide unpaid care for their peers, to be happier and better off than their younger counterparts.
  3. We are over–relying on top–down structural change: the macro debates on policy issues such as care and pensions will continue, but more needs to be done to link these with emerging innovations at the grassroots level.
  4. We lack evidence of what works: there is plenty of evidence of what is important in terms of ageing well but we lack evidence of what are most impactful in terms of people losing weight or stopping smoking or being more physically active.

Requirements for systemic change

The report proposes that we are part way through systemic change on ageing, from a system where older people were relatively over–institutionalised, over-medicalised, under–valued and without a variety of fulfilling roles and supportive social networks, towards a society which seeks to maximise the opportunities, as well as address the challenges, of an ageing society.

It draws a comparison with the systemic change that has occurred in the way we deal with waste from a system focused overwhelmingly on landfill to a highly differentiated system of recycling, reuse and reduction.

The report proposes that systemic change requires shifts across four key areas:

  • Product and service innovation: new technologies, products and services to meet demand in new ways across public and private markets;
  • Market innovation: new business models, organisational forms and recalibrated markets to enable new solutions to be developed;
  • Political innovation: political leadership combined with new policies, regulations and infrastructure to create the conditions for systemic change; and
  • Cultural innovation: new social norms and behavioural change to drive new demands and to create a social movement for change.

Five hours a day

Useful links:
Visit the NESTA website