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Healing the ageing health issue

'Prime Timers' offer a wealth of opportunities to pharma as they hold back the sands of time

Ageing population

Much has been written about the global ageing population and how the healthcare industry is already deriving enormous benefits from the fact that we are growing older.  While the focus has been on important medical discoveries – as broad as decoding the human genome to specific individual treatments for various diseases – new trends are emerging that healthcare brands should look into more deeply. These trends flag up new behavioural patterns and should be considered as we seek to meet the needs of our ageing consumer base.

It is not new news that older people tend to require more healthcare and are subject to higher levels of chronic illness than younger people.  This trend is subtly shifting, though, as we age more healthily. In 1950, just under 5 per cent of Japanese were over the age of 65. By 2000 that figure had grown to over 17 per cent. By 2050 it is expected to reach nearly one-third of the total population. 

The latest US Census shows that the median age of the US population has risen from 27.2 in 2000 to 35.3 in 2010. The percentage of the US population now aged between 45 and 64 is 26.4 per cent of the total population, with the rapid growth in this segment resulting from the ageing of the Baby Boomer generation. But this is not the whole picture.

The fact that we are ageing does not automatically mean that we are degenerating at the same rate. The greatest indicator here is the typical Prime Timer's mindset, someone who is no longer content to retire, don a pair of slippers and stare at the electric fire. Generally speaking because we are healthier, we feel more energetic and want to remain active. We have swapped the attitude of 'I have reached 60 therefore I must slow down' for 'now that I have all this experience and the kids are off my hands, what should my next project be?'.

It is precisely this type of customer the healthcare sector currently seems to be ignoring. Maybe it is because they don't need the type of healthcare already available, yet they want to remain healthy and full of vitality and they recognise that they need help to do so. This is the niche that still needs addressing – the one which boosts, supports, sustains, enhances – all words that don't yet feature very highly in the healthcare vocabulary. Currently there is movement in food and supplements to target just this need, but we need to ask how is pharma meeting the needs of this mindset?.

No shortage of 'advice' online
Google 'health for over 60s' and you will certainly find lots of advice, mostly based on the health problems that are typical at this lifestage. In reality, the average healthy 60-year-old wants to know the  positives – how can I make the most of being 60; how can I avoid degenerative ailments; and how can I age healthily?

Because we live in a connected era, older consumers are increasingly prone to enter into conversations about their healthcare choices. 

Pharmaceutical brands could do well to listen more closely to these online conversations to find out what triggers a trend. Certainly we are finding older consumers are very willing to trial new health regimes, so long as they are endorsed. This consumer segment often has more free time and with the world at their fingertips most of them are curious to explore and can become avid influencers in their own right. Importantly, though, they do need to feel that the healthcare products they are selecting are designed for them:  the new breed of 'over-60'; the healthy, curious older person who wants to enhance his lifestyle not simply shore it up.

Other factors that come into play
Prime Timers are delaying retirement – due in a great part to the economic crisis of recent years, with pension benefits being pared down, but also because they are healthy, fit and full of energy. They are leading a life that their parents never dreamed of and, as a result, this too means that a whole new set of needs is generated in terms of products and services that most brands are still slow to pick up on.

Research shows that women in particular are interested in taking greater care and responsibility for their own health. Though in smaller numbers, men too are starting to take greater interest in their physical wellbeing.  

There is an element of 'holistic spirituality' that enters into this too, with a focus on the inner person. Healthcare brands that understand this evolving sense of spirituality are in a far better position to resonate with this growing population of consumers. 

Suddenly the gloves are (literally) off. Increased age, once only revered in Asia and Africa, is no longer a taboo in North America and Europe; no longer a lifestage to be feared. Increased age is much more about self-confidence and self-esteem – and it resonates with today's Prime Timers offering countless brands a wealth of opportunities.

The Prime Timer is entering a more extended golden age, when health and beauty is defined by fitness rather than how well we can keep illness at bay. The sheer definition of health has shifted and goes beyond ticking through various ailments, offering the pharmaceutical segment the opportunity to explore innovation from a new perspective.

Bryan Urbick is CEO and president of Consumer Knowledge Centre. He is an author and lectures on the subject of kids, families, women, Prime Timers (people aged 55+), product development, innovation and the NPD process. Over the years Bryan has crafted some of his own methodologies and research tools.He can be contacted at

18th December 2012

From: Sales, Marketing, Healthcare



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