At the Gerontech and Innovation Expo cum Summit in Hong Kong, I saw a smart mirror that can detect and analyse the facial expressions of elderly people and send notifications to their caregivers’ mobile phones with an indication of their emotional status. I also saw a wearable device that monitors users’ health while sleeping, especially useful for monitoring seniors with sleep apnea, and a self-stabilising spoon designed for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Inventions like these can have a power that goes beyond their obvious purpose. More importantly, these gadgets can also deliver a psychological boost by allowing elderly people to be more active and enjoy the latter part of life.
Ingenious devices that can improve quality of life are not necessarily rocket science and do not have to cost a fortune. Simple products with smart, effective designs can enhance the mobility of the elderly, protect them from injury and help them stay connected. At the same time, they can enable elderly people to continue making a valuable contribution to families and society in retirement.
What most impressed me about the Summit was the extent to which elderly people themselves were involved. Only through collaboration between seniors and their families, the government, private sector and experts can we design innovative products that meet the real needs of elderly people.
We all know Hong Kong has an ageing population. This demographic shift is gathering momentum and reflects the importance of addressing the common needs of elderly people. According to Hong Kong government statistics, the proportion of people aged 65 or above had risen from 12% in 2006 to 16% in 2016. This proportion will steadily increase over the next two decades. By 2041, nearly 33% of Hong Kong’s total population will be aged 65 or above, and by 2050, it will be 41%.
An ageing population will clearly pose challenges in various areas like public health care, social welfare, and pensions. But it is just as clear that there is a social and economic opportunity here. Due to a broad improvement in quality of life, the “silver hair” community of today (and tomorrow) is more physically active, more educated and has access to more information than it was in the past. Hong Kong people are also living longer. Average lifespans have extended by nearly eight years in the past 30 years to 87.3 years and 81.3 years for women and men respectively.
Businesses can and should develop propositions for this growing market, such as financial services in health and medical insurance, private residential care homes and wearable technologies.
Indeed, a more age-friendly city could boost the broader economy by enabling more elderly people to continue working if they chose to do so. Independent, active older people are also in a much better position to support their families. This can mean helping working parents with childcare. As the percentage of women in Hong Kong’s workforce has increased by 12% to 49% in 2016 over the past 30 years, traditional approaches to childcare have changed and many families rely on grandparents to help with their grandchildren.
At the same time, though, taking steps to support active ageing will bring much more than simply commercial benefits. Healthy and active elderly people are also better able to share their experience and wisdom with younger generations, ensuring that our culture and traditions continue to thrive even as we embrace technological progress.
HSBC recognizes the importance of elderly people to society and families in Hong Kong. As part of our commitment to supporting the community, HSBC has partnered with a number of organisations to help promote the use of technology to enhance home safety for seniors. Since 2016, we have supported projects including Smart Home for Seniors, Silver Innovators, and Social Entrepreneurship that involve supporting entrepreneurs’ efforts to create safer homes and more active lives for elderly people. We have also been hiring retirees as “Smart Seniors” to work in our retail outlets so that they can achieve a more gradual transition into retirement.
In the next few months, we will be initiating a Cyber Seniors project by donating computers to senior community centres, with a plan for HSBC volunteers to conduct on-site training classes for the elderly people.
As the old Chinese saying goes “a home with an elderly person is a home with treasure.” Elderly people are indeed invaluable. They have preserved Hong Kong’s unique heritage, they embody the enterprising and resilient spirit of this city and they have much to teach us about the future. I believe that, by working together, we can enhance quality of life for the elderly, boost our economy and benefit society as a whole.