While there is no shortage of attempts to stop or reverse it, we are all still aging. This year, for the first time in our history, there will be more of us over 65 than under 5 years old.

This demographic shift, combined with our increasing longevity, will continue to exacerbate the disparities between the elderly population and those available to care for them. Japan is at the forefront of this new world; providing lessons for us all to consider.

Relatable challenges

Two key concepts are critical to understanding the situation an increasing number of countries, including the U.S., are facing: demographic transition and dependency ratio. According to Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the first describes the long-term shift in birth and death rates.

For example, Japan and most countries in Europe are in what PRB identifies as the third phase, which is low levels of both fertility and mortality. A major implication of this being a shrinking working population and an increasing elderly population.

The second concept, dependency ratio reflects the relationship between the number of those who need care (children or elderly) and those who can provide care. In this case, Japan has a high elderly dependency ratio.

In addition to Japan’s aging workforce and increasing elderly population, its immigration laws, and language barriers are limiting its ability to supplement its shrinking workforce with skilled labor from other countries.

Domo arigato

These issues related to an increase in the aging population and a decrease in the labor pool able to care for them will become more common in more countries. Technology may provide some solutions and Japan is at the forefront of exploring these options.

Current real-world experiments to use robots for eldercare fall into the following categories, as outlined in this graphic by Reuters: lifting, moving, monitoring and entertainment and companionship.

While no one believes robots will replace the need for humans in caring for the elderly, robots and other technologies can address a significant number of tasks that then free up healthcare specialists to provide more specific, complicated, or individualized support.

Consider the tools we have now that already allow us to remotely monitor patients; conduct virtual video visits; alert emergency services; clean the floor; and order groceries. None of these options were available a generation ago. At the pace of technological development, we can expect even more advances within the next generation.

To infinity… and beyond!

As leaders, what can we do today to prepare for tomorrow? In addition to recognizing the significant demographic shifts around the world and keeping an eye on the tech pioneers making the link between robots and healthcare, those in the healthcare industry can stay ahead of the curve by thinking outside traditional solutions for opportunities to solve care problems.

In other words, cross-functional teams can work together to ensure we are maximizing the technology we already have, like video calling, email, and document sharing to provide care solutions instead of just addressing operational productivity. HR can begin to understand and plan for labor shortages by creating career pipelines that attract and grow new talent as well as draw from national and international sources. Leaders at all levels can support and embrace opportunities to participate in innovative professional development that embraces new technologies, like virtual reality.