Last week we discussed how the rapidly growing elderly population in Japan is creating a perfect storm for that culture’s traditional ways.
In Japan, one of every eight people is at least 75 years old. There are twice as many people aged 65 or older than children under the age of 15, according to the latest government statistics.
Who will take care of this tsunami of the elderly—and what can insurance’s role be in providing for their welfare?
Numerous studies show that aging in one’s own home or community provides a better quality of life for the elderly than an assisted-living or nursing-home situation. According to the Assisted Living Federation of America, the average length of stay in assisted-living residences is less than two years.
Fortunately, the trend of a rising elderly population is accompanied by new sophistication in the area of robotics and other technology. Entrepreneurs are recognizing this opportunity and developing increasingly effective products that mimic strong, skilled nursing assistants to serve that elderly population.
Here are two recent examples:
- Japanese research institute Riken is developing a bear-like robot known as “Robear,” specifically designed to serve as a caregiver to people with mobility issues. Weighing in at about 300 pounds, Robear has three types of sensors that ensure it is gentle and careful while performing power-intensive tasks such as carrying patients to and from beds or wheelchairs.
- Cyberdyne Products has developed HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb), a cyborg-type robot that allows wearers to improve, support and enhance bodily functions. Powered by the wearer’s electronic brain impulses, HAL helps physically challenged people move and enables them to exert more motor energy. HAL is also considered a system to accelerate the motor learning of cerebral nerves.
These examples are illustrative of the types of partners that insurers can add to their ecosystem, all designed to serve the customer. Instead of simply selling long-term care insurance or health insurance—and looking for new markets when it no longer becomes cost-efficient to insure the elderly—insurers can sit on the same side of the table as their customers and look for solutions to the problems that go with aging.
Of course, this means exploring new partnerships and looking beyond the tried-and-true risk pools that have made the industry “fat, dumb and happy.” But it also opens the door to a world of new opportunities—and new risks, as who knows what risks are born in an era of home healthcare robotics? Of course it is the insurance industry’s role to make this innovation a safe reality.
Next week I’ll talk about the growing field of nanotechnology, and the threats—and opportunities—for insurance.
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