For businesses, these trends spell opportunity. Dugald Anthony, Austrade’s adviser responsible for health and aged care, says “there are lots of lifestyle opportunities in Asia-Pacific, whether it’s in travel, well-being, nutrition, complementary health services or financial services.”
“Just think what any affluent aging person who wants to remain independent, healthy and informed would want.”
O'Keefe says there’s huge potential in home-based services such as home meal delivery or nursing care as well as in the aged care and long-term care markets. Recent changes in China favour the public-private partnerships model of delivering services.
“That will open things up massively but there are many hurdles to overcome, as some companies have already discovered,” O’Keeffe says.
“The public sector providers in hospital care – and to a lesser extent in aged care – have such an advantageous position. They’re almost like public sector monopolies and are hard to compete with, except at the very high end of the market.”
Kim Walker, founder of Singapore-based Silver Group, bemoans that when people think about the older market, they immediately think about retirement homes or adult diapers.
“The more you single out older people as your end users, the narrower your focus and the less likelihood of success,” he says. “Regardless of age, people still need to clothe, look after and entertain themselves. The opportunities are much broader and bigger.”
O'Keefe also sees gaps for financial services companies in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
“Many older people in these countries have low financial literacy, which normally means they’re hugely underbanked,” he says.
Similarly, he expects demand for workplace design, ergonomics, technologies or basic structures, such as ramps and lifts, as many organisations make adjustments to accommodate older workers or customers.
Austrade’s Walker believes opportunities lie in adjusting everyday products so older people can still access them easily.
“We start to experience physiological decline from around the age of 50. But the average life span is around 80 or 85,” he says. “That means you are talking about a period of around 30 to 35 years.
“We need to understand the physical, sensory and cognitive changes of age, design products and services to accommodate these and present them in a way that doesn’t stigmatise people on the basis of their age.”
“While attitudes differ from country to country, the physical effects of aging will touch most people at some time. You can forestall them but gravity wins.”
But Walker warns against having preconceived assumptions.
“One of the things we know for sure about the aging population of today is that it will not be the same tomorrow,” he says. “It changes every day as new people enter that segment. They bring with them different values and observations towards age.”
Liu Chuyang, Australia’s Trade Commissioner in Beijing responsible for the “silver economy” and aged care, expects “smart health”, or e-health, to be growth areas in China, along with training and skills development.
“All sectors of China’s soft infrastructure are lagging behind its hard infrastructure,” she says, noting there are big skill gaps in new sectors like health, senior living, training managers, carers and nurses.
“Statistics show that China is lacking 90 per cent of the carers it needs.”
For those looking to enter the market, Anthony recommends doing thorough research and tainge a strategic approach.
“There’re lots of opportunities but also lots of noise,’ he says. “This requires a laser-like focus on which markets to enter and regular travel to meet prospective partners and build relationships. And always get good advice!”
Zilla Efrat is Sydney-based freelance journalist and editor