Longevity Economies Unite -- How Japan is Collaborating with the World to Reimagine the Future of Aging

Koichi Narasaki, Chief Digital Officer

SOMPO Holdings


Japan--the life expectancy leader of the world--is at serious risk of becoming a nation of caregivers.  


In less than 10 years, 30 percent of Japan’s population will be over the age of 65 and the ratio of workers to retirees at one-to-one.  Despite the many good fortunes of longevity, millions of elders will likely suffer cognitive impairment, limited mobility, and social isolation.  This demographic tipping point, at scale, is already putting a huge emotional and financial strain on Japan's young people.


To date, Japan has looked primarily within its own borders to solve its aging dilemma.  We strive to implement new government policies and advanced technologies that are both ethically, and economically, responsible.  Our solutions haven't been perfect, but in the spirit of ‘kaizen’ we've been quick to make adjustments along the way.


Increasingly, as other developed countries cope with aging populations, we're eager to share our learnings with the global community and explore new ways to solve our collective challenges.  And the more we work with the global community, the more my confidence grows that we share the same vision: to reimagine the future of longevity where human-centric technology and design, combined with healthier lifestyles, will yield economic benefits as well as greater independence and wellbeing for older people everywhere.  


Long-term Care for Everyone, by Everyone

Japan's long-term care system is said to be one of the most progressive and generous in the world.  Implemented in 2000, Japan's compulsory public insurance program covers preventative care as well as at-home, day-center, and institutional services for everyone over 65 (and some over 40 with special conditions).  The insurance is provided by municipalities, and funded by tax revenues and premiums paid by individuals 40 to 65.  


In 2005, Japan began training volunteers to assist people suffering from dementia and their families.  Our goal is to train six million supporters by the end of 2017.  Their assistance is crucial: within the next 10 years, seven million people, or twenty percent of 65-plus year olds, are expected to endure cognitive impairment.


Strains on the System

Japan's public insurance system is generally well-received by our citizens.  Our community orientation is truly empathetic toward the elderly.  Our volunteerism is remarkable.  


But the system is not perfect, of course.  


Demand for services far exceed expectations.  Premiums, reviewed every three years, keep increasing.  Funding and the quality of care vary across communities.  


Furthermore, the current trend of at-home services will continue to play an increasingly important role, yet service providers are struggling to balance efficiency with quality personal care.  Caregiving is notoriously strenuous, yet wages are painfully low, and the cost of training is high.  For family caregivers, the burden of care often falls on the women of the household, forcing them to stay out of the workforce, putting further financial strain on their families, and the country.


Global Solutions for Local Care

Japan's long-term care system is a perpetual work in progress.  In addition to eliminating inefficiencies in the current system, we need to embrace new business models so revolutions in robotics, analytics, bioinformatics, and AI can thrive for the elderly.


SOMPO, one of the largest senior care providers in Japan, has just begun deploying an IoT solution that will help us ensure the safety, security, and wellbeing of our residents around the clock.  Our own employees have been excited to take part in the design process. Their input is crucial to see if/how digital products can authentically ease the unrelenting demands they feel on the front lines of care.


Now we want to leverage the wisdom of crowds on a global scale.  SOMPO is well-positioned as a partner to help deploy global platforms in Japan, and contribute back to their ever-expanding ecosystems with valuable customer insights.  To accomplish this, we've begun collaborating with entrepreneurs in the U.S., Singapore and Taiwan.  We look to expand to tech hubs in Europe and Latin America as well.  


The opportunity for global entrepreneurs in Japan is enormous: according to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japan’s senior care services market is expected to grow to 880 billion dollars by 2025.


We're starting our global engagement by focusing on digital solutions for cognitive health, home caregiving, remote care delivery and financial security.   


  • How might we detect early signs of dementia and prevent rapid decline?
  • How might we ease the emotional, financial and physical burdens on home caregivers?  
  • How might we increase social engagement among the elderly?
  • How might we provide care remotely?  


As our global partnerships develop, we'll broaden our scope and find solutions to problems that we didn't even know existed.  


Longevity Economies Unite

Longevity is really about redesigning the future.  Every sector--from insurance, to medical, to transportation, to manufacturing, to leisure, to workplaces, to housing, to government--must rethink and retool its products and services to accommodate aging consumers.  


Now more than ever, longevity economies need to unite in a global ecosystem to find creative and compassionate solutions for aging worldwide.  Although the challenges are huge, the opportunities to innovate are equally enormous.  


We all need to encourage cross-generational teams and engage the elderly in identifying what matters most, and incorporating their insights into our design projects.


We all need to take our ideas beyond symposiums, incubators and corporate innovation labs into the living rooms, communities and care homes of the world.  


We all need to keep listening to each other, sharing and, most importantly, taking action.  


Longevity involves everyone.  Let’s work together now for the long fruitful journey ahead.