To be outside, to mingle, to explore new things-these are among the basic desires of the elderly. The photo shows visitors at the Pavilion of Dreams, during the Taipei Flower Expo several months ago. (Chuang Kung-ju)
On the eve of the lunar calendar's Double Ninth Festival-which celebrates the elderly-what new ways of thinking have emerged about Taiwan's future aged society? Will these new conceptions offer new opportunities?
Let us, for a moment, imagine a realm of public spaces where the elderly aren't hindered because of their incapacities: The tree-lined streets here are wide. Sidewalks keep pedestrians away from traffic, and when walkers get tired, they find benches everywhere on which to rest. Sweet music wafts from nearby shops and homes.
Walk into a shopping center, and it will provide free electric vehicles to move you around at your convenience. Product instructions feature large print, and sales clerks are happy to chat with elderly customers. Apart from shopping, various kinds of educational, social and leisure activities are also available to seniors. Restaurants offer tasty and easy-to-chew "silver-haired specials."
Now just the stuff of dreams, places such as these, designed around the needs of the elderly, may well arise as a result of the conceptual revolution taking place as Taiwanese society rapidly ages.
Most importantly, so long as government, industry, and all of us can look toward innovating and show more concern for quality of life, then the growing tide of elderly will do more than merely bring ample business opportunities: it will foster a true commercial and social revolution.
According to the Council of Economic Planning and Development, in another 14 years Taiwan will become a "super-aged" society. Walk down any given street, and one out of five people will be elderly.
The growing elderly population around the world has already had a discernable impact on consumer behavior and the rise and fall of businesses.
Take, for example, Japan, which is rapidly aging. Declining industries there include pediatrics, toys, child education, and real estate focused on younger buyers. Meanwhile, leisure travel, pet care, religious activity and healthcare are booming.
In Taiwan, obstetrics has been hit hardest. Although the field was booming not long ago, today many obstetrics clinics are closing or turning themselves into nursing homes.
Some businesses, however, have found ways to profit off of the rising tide of elderly. For instance, business for adult diapers, health foods, nutritional supplements, and mobility aids has been steadily increasing. Wheelchair sales have risen 20% in the last two years alone, according to industry estimates. Cell phones with large fonts or radio functions, easy-to-operate amplified telephones, and iPads with gaming functions have increasingly been winning the affections of elderly consumers. The latter in particular is the ideal gift for filial youngsters to offer their elders.