The age of innovation draws near

If you needed any more evidence that innovation in healthcare technology is on course to become not just a boom industry but a full-scale national obsession, consider these predictions on the number of UK citizens living to be 100.

Today’s figure of around 10,000 centenarians could rise to more than a million by the third quarter of the century, according to the government’s latest population predictions. Even the most conservative estimates suggest 350,000 Britons will have reached three figures by 2075.

On the face of it this sounds like good news for everybody bar the post room at BuckinghamPalace.

But it has massive social, economic and political implications. Below this army of the hundred-plus will be the even bigger ranks of nonagenarians and octogenarians, not to mention million upon million in their 60s and 70s who will hardly qualify as elderly at all.

All the trends tell us that unless there is some unforeseen catastrophe — or we all begin hitting the fry-ups and Benson & Hedges with a vengeance — this will come to pass.

The elderly of 2075 are certain to be far healthier than their grandparents, and the combined expertise of the medical profession and pharmaceutical industry will have found many new methods of keeping them that way.

Healthier, but it is equally certain that the majority will hardly be in tip-top condition.

People will survive medical conditions that would kill them today, but will be left disabled. Science will allow others to live with chronic ailments for far longer than is currently possible, meaning years of constant care and monitoring.

Finally there will be an enormous number of people suffering from nothing more than the natural effects of old age.

All those listed above will rightly demand the chance to enjoy a reasonable quality of life.

Technical innovation will inevitably play a huge role in meeting the needs of the millions of new elderly. This will include technology to diagnose and treat people more efficiently and effectively; systems that can monitor them at home (the alternative being residential nursing on the scale of the Soviet Gulag); assistive technology for those with varying degrees of disability; and quite possibly an entirely new category of consumer devices specifically designed and engineered to make life at 85 that little bit more pleasant.

And if the technical imperatives of an economy are driven by its social make up, it won’t stop there. For example, how will the automotive industry adapt its vehicles to the physical limitations of elderly drivers? It is more than likely that Jeremy Clarkson’s successor on Top Gear 2075 will be more concerned with the enhanced vision system or cardiac monitoring network of the latest Toyota than its time from nought to 60.

Predicting the future is hazardous, but it seems fair to surmise that if you are after a good (very) long-term investment, look for technologies that can help the aged. Either that or build a couple of bungalows.

Andrew Lee, editor