Dr. Joe Coughlin contributes chapter to The Upside of Aging

Dr. Joe Coughlin contributes chapter to The Upside of Aging

The future of aging is not the future our grandparents once faced. It is brighter, with more opportunities and better resources for those growing old, and improved chances for second and third beginnings. This optimistic theme runs throughout The Upside of Aging, a collection of essays curated by Paul H. Irving, president of the Milken Institute and a thought leader at the intersection of aging and public health. The book's chapters, written by a variety of professionals with an interest in aging, take on themes that run the gamut from science to economics to education and beyond.

"It's a can-do, bright-side approach that's relatively hard to find these days among all the gloom-and-doom of people not saving enough for their retirement and the palpable fear of outliving one's savings," writes Kerry Hannon in USA Today.

Dr. Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the MIT AgeLab, contributed a chapter entitled “Disruptive Demography: The New Business of Old Age.” In it, Dr. Coughlin presents a fresh take on developing new markets and improving existing ones in order to appeal to a rapidly growing segment of our population—the older consumer. “The new face of old age is increasingly wealthier, healthier, and more educated. It is also more female,” Dr. Coughlin writes. Businesses who understand how to best serve this new demographic will have the most success marketing their technologies and services to the older consumer.

The difficulty lies in the delivery. As Dr. Coughlin points out, the technology with the ability to improve the lives of those growing older is being developed, yet we are still unclear as to how this technology will make its way into the hands it was built for. The questions of who will deliver and pay for such services still remains, as does the basic uncertainty of how consumers will learn about available technology—not to mention the problem of integrating new products into the existing infrastructure.

An innovative way to visualize the solutions to these concerns is illustrated by the chart below. Here, Dr. Coughlin overlays the question of Who Delivers? (private institutions, public partnerships, and the government) over the question of Who Pays? (private or public). He then maps various innovation areas onto these axes. The picture that emerges identifies four major market areas that have the potential to transform the concept of aging itself: Support, Enabling, Lifestyle, and Social Impact. Dr. Coughlin says that these markets are not necessarily independent, adding that they display a “likely clustering of products, services, and policies that might share organization and delivery models.”


Mapping innovation markets in an aging society

"Support is the traditional aging market," Dr. Coughlin writes, focused on formal caregiving and health services. Innovation in this quarter might look like newly developed “smart” technology that monitors the behavior and health of older adults. Support has conventionally been a popular focus for R&D, but with the rise of adults aging-in-place, other quadrants come to the forefront. In Enabling, public-sector players work to making existing physical infrastructure better suited to the transportation, housing, and community needs of an aging society. As this society develops a more “enjoyable” vision of what growing older means, a market that caters to a new Lifestyle for the aging adult appears. Generally funded by private discretionary income, Lifestyle often involves the pursuit of recreation and relaxation (or even a career) as well as a “proactive” approach to managing the effects of aging (for example, holistic wellness or home modifications). The last quadrant emphasizes the Social Impact of older adults, which results from the desire of each aging generation to leave behind a legacy and thus shape areas as diverse as politics and marketing. Dr. Coughlin suggests that this “desire to make a difference” will play an important role in policy-making and activism generated by aging adults who are likely to invest their own resources of time and money in such pursuits, and increasingly turn to the Internet to generate a greater Social impact.

While Dr. Coughlin reminds us that these are not “exhaustive or complete” market clarifications, they do offer up an adaptive map of the shifting landscape that aging has become. By using this framework as a springboard, private, non-profit and public sectors alike can continue to explore and innovate in the quest to improve the future of how we grow old.

The Upside of Aging is available at Amazon.com.