Taiwan’s demographic shift has led to an explosion of goods and services geared toward meeting the needs of elderly residents.
Strolling around the 2020 Assistive Technology for Life exhibition held this past summer in Taipei City, visitors were met with a stunning array of inventive devices designed to make everyday life smoother for disabled individuals. With a huge number of products targeted at senior citizens, the show exemplifies the rapidly expanding eldercare industry, said Keen Chang (張慶光), whose Taipei-headquartered L’elan Enterprise Co. is a fixture at the show. This year’s edition attracted 123,000 visitors browsing 580 booths—up from around 85,000 people and 500 booths in 2018—and items on view ranged from self-stabilizing spoons to specially designed bathtubs.
“Products developed for the elderly are increasingly diverse, aiming to help seniors live healthier, richer and more dignified lives,” Chang said. Selling the latest eldercare goods from around the world since 2007, L’elan has grown from a small online sales platform to eight brick-and-mortar stores around Taiwan while greatly expanding its line of products. Walking sticks alone are now available in scores of feature-packed styles to satisfy the needs of its increasingly particular customers.
“Though in the past people often felt embarrassed about needing a walking stick, today more people are willing to use a device that’s both practical and attractive,” Chang said. Enhancing selection to suit a broader scope of preferences is paying off, with L’elan’s revenue increasing 40 percent year-on-year in the second half of 2019.
Chang’s company is just one small part of the booming industry catering to the elderly. “Previous generations tended to funnel all savings to their children, but today’s retirees are more inclined to think about their own well-being and spend more on themselves,” said Chang Tsz-yin (張慈映), director of the Lifestyle and Biomedical Research Division of the Industry, Science and Technology International Strategy Center under state-backed Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) headquartered in northern Taiwan.
This change in mentality, coupled with an aging population, has caused the industry to take off. According to ITRI, goods and services designed for the elderly generated NT$199.4 billion (US$6.88 billion) in revenue in 2019, up from NT$162.5 billion (US$5.6 billion) in 2017. The institute estimated the number will reach NT$236.7 billion (US$8.16 billion) by 2022.
ITRI itself plays a critical role in driving the development of the senior citizen-oriented economy. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Industrial Development Bureau, ITRI representatives visit enterprises that have cultivated the elderly market in countries like Japan and then use their overseas experience to guide companies back home. “The industry hasn’t taken off until now because the needs of senior citizens haven’t been properly prioritized, not because they don’t exist. We have to keep identifying them,” Chang said.
One of ITRI’s recent efforts to satisfy unmet needs was introducing to Taiwan the services of Takajo Co., which rents out equipment like wheelchairs and home-care beds. The Japanese company ensures the highest cleanliness standards through meticulous disinfection procedures, after which it sends devices to customers packaged as if they were brand new. In 2018 the enterprise teamed up with Taipei-based equipment retailer Mayoraison Co. to found Takajo Care Tech Co., merging the two companies’ expertise to bring high-quality, affordable care solutions to Taiwan households.
Meanwhile, ITRI’s Biomedical Technology and Device Research Laboratories is coordinating the institute’s resources to develop products for long-term care with potential for commercialization. Notable results include ultrathin, ultralight wearables for detecting vital signs and equipment analyzing changes in gaits for developing more effective exercise regimens.
Also getting in on the eldercare trend is Taipei-based Chunghwa Biomedical Technology Corp. Founded in 2006, the corporation was initially a franchisee of U.S.-based Home Instead Senior Care, during which time it provided basic assistance such as meal preparation and accompaniment on hospital visits. Ten years later it parted ways with the American entity and renamed itself Chunghwa Senior Care Co. (CSCC). After the division, CSCC started diversifying its services, offering specialized care for clients with cancer, dementia and history of stroke.
To ensure the best possible results, CSCC professionals first make comprehensive assessments of clients’ conditions and design care plans tailored to each individual’s needs. To date the company’s customized services have helped more than 100,000 clients. CSCC’s steadily rising revenue demonstrates the growing need for such offerings, with 50 percent year-on-year growth in 2019.
“The industry heavily relies on human resources, so cultivating professional caregivers is the core of our business,” CSCC Vice President Trista Chen (陳佳雯) said. Prospective providers must take 120 hours of government-run classes on long-term care practices to qualify, but this is only a prerequisite for applying to jobs at the company. Employees receive additional in-house training once they are on board. The manpower cultivation program also began welcoming non-CSCC trainees in 2016, helping broaden the pool of professional caregivers in Taiwan. “We impart essential skills and knowledge on the back of our extensive experience in the field. We know what problems are likely to arise and equip trainees with the know-how to adeptly handle them,” Chen said.
As individual enterprises are posting impressive gains, they are also seeking opportunities to create synergy through the Taiwan Elderly Care Industry Association. Founded in 2016, the organization consists of more than 50 members specializing in health care, insurance and even tourism.
The strategy is starting to bear fruit. In 2016 Cathay Life Insurance, a member of the association, began to research the possibility of allowing policyholders to choose between CSCC services or cash payouts to cover long-term care. The unprecedented option became available on the Taiwan market in 2019, prompting more institutions to follow suit.
This past August ITRI also launched the International Consortium of Smart Elder Care, which currently comprises 20 members in areas spanning health care, optoelectronic solutions and artificial intelligence. Similarly featuring industrywide cooperation, the consortium aims to boost development of new products and services for the elderly in Taiwan and New Southbound Policy target countries. A key plank in the government’s national development strategy, the policy seeks to deepen agricultural, business, cultural, education, tourism and trade ties with the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states, six South Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand.
“All sectors in Taiwan and the region should be thinking about how to better serve the elderly. It’s time to take a major step forward by integrating resources to create innovative care strategies for the demographic,” Chen said. “As the population is rapidly aging and senior citizens are keen to invest in their well-being and quality of life, the industry must be ready to meet their needs.”
Write to Oscar Chung at firstname.lastname@example.org
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