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The Untapped Potential of Senior Innovations

Aging can be big business for companies that find ways to tap into it. People in the U.S. age 50 and up collectively spend as much as $7.1 trillion a year, and that amount is expected to double by 2020 as more people age.

However, there’s still a need for innovations that would help millions of Americans age more gracefully, more comfortably and, preferably, in place. There’s a big push right now to tap into the aging market to provide those goods and services.

Demographic experts believe the aging boom has created a transformational business opportunity that will permanently change the commercial landscape. This is because after baby boomers have entered retirement, they’ll eventually be followed by Generation X and then millennials — currently the largest demographic. Each of these generations is expected to live progressively and measurably longer than the one before. As such, there is a huge demand, and thus far a small supply of companies, focused on serving the needs of the oldest Americans, who yearn to live an enriched lifestyle in retirement.

The next generation of older adults doesn’t want to simply live longer; it wants to live better. The latest trends in aging studies innovation call for more focus on transportation, housing and fun – and less on pill reminder systems and home security systems.

One such innovation is the housing development plan for Margaritaville-themed retirement communities — the brainchild of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who himself is age 70. The idea is to update the tired old idea of retirement communities with a paradise-themed setting. The first two Buffett neighborhoods, complete with beachfront access, live entertainment, lap pools and spas, are planned for Daytona, Florida, and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Another type of innovation involves generational engagement. A nursing home in Great Britain recently embarked on an experiment to place a preschool inside a nursing home, where children interact with elderly residents. The benefits were remarkable for both groups. Children enjoyed one-on-one attention while putting together puzzles, making crafts, drawing, singing and dancing. Retirees worked right alongside the children, enjoying the questions, the creativity, the small-hand coordination and the joy of engagement — including the gentle touch of just holding hands with little ones. Elderly participants showed improvements in alertness, social connection, physical mobility and mood.

Whether engaging with young folks or hanging out with peers, the challenge moving forward is on ways to improve the quality of life for millions of aging Americans. And with so much consumer money at stake, you can bet corporate America will find a way to do it.

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