Getting older in the age of a Pandemic

Changes to how we think about ageing in response to the pandemic may have profound impacts across a number of sectors, both as increased risks, but also opportunities

Me and my dad at his eightieth birthday party

I am lucky that both of my parents are still going strong in their early eighties even though they have both had significant health challenges in the last couple of years.

Given the experience and knowledge I have of disease issues I have been pretty strong on my messages to them on what they should be doing during the Pandemic, especially as they both have pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable.

Their situation and the thought of my impending 60th birthday (I cannot believe that I am typing that) has led me to think about the changes that the COVID-19 Pandemic might cause in the attitudes in various older demographic groups.

The current situation where over 40 aged care facilities have outbreaks (Outbreaks across dozens of Victorian aged care homes as COVID-19 hits state’s prisons) have again clearly shown the dangers this sort of infection poses to the elderly in our communities. I think that the situation may lead to several lasting changes that will have profound impacts on our communities and also present opportunities.

  1. Firstly I think that older couples and individuals who are currently in retirement villages will be even more reluctant to move into aged care facilities than they have been historically. In talking to people who own and run retirement villages this will be an acceleration of a current trend. In turn, this will put more pressure on retirement villages to provide more and more support services to their residents.
  2. Secondly, I think that the next age group down, those still living independently in their own homes will be more reluctant to move into retirement villages. This will include a greater desire to keep fitter and stronger so they can maintain their current lives, tend to gardens, participate in the community, etc. This will provide greater opportunities to people supplying support services, including those that refurbish houses and apartments to help people stay in them longer. Again this is an acceleration of a process that the government has been keen to support to reduce costs in the sector. On the other hand, it may create pressure on retirement villages as numbers of new customer numbers fall away. It may also have an impact on the housing market, especially the densification of the inner suburbs. If more people stay in their houses for longer then there will be a reduction of available properties to convert into townhouses and higher-density apartment living;
  3. Thirdly the risks that are obvious for older people may filter down to people in my age group. It may spark an increased desire to be fitter, stronger and healthier in people’s fifties and sixties in order to live longer in a healthy state. Opportunities lie here.

At this point, this is just speculative. I am the first person to tell my clients that the best guide to future human behaviour is past human behaviour and there needs to be a healthy cynicism with regard to wholesale change. I also repeatedly tell people that every trend breaks and that trend faith is very dangerous.

People will also point out that if we get a successful vaccine then things will revert back to normal (whatever that means). I have healthy scepticism on this as well. The vaccines that are developed may not be as successful as we would like, they may reduce the severity of disease but not prevent infection or transmission, and they are likely to be less successful in older demographic populations just because immune systems are less effective as we age.

In reply to all of this, I would say what I always say. You should hold multiple pictures in your head and continually monitor the environment for signs of which picture is continuing to be the most likely. If you have any interest in any of these sorts of organisations, or businesses, or flow-on effects from them then you are being negligent if you do not think more carefully about the sorts of changes that could emerge if the picture you have in your head does not match what happens in the future.

Get in touch with me if you want to talk about how to do this.

Paul Higgins

June 22nd, 2020