Profit from an ageing population

As the average age of the population rises, its needs change - and that means opportunities for investors. Tom Bulford looks at two sectors which will benefit from this demographic shift, and tips one stock to watch.

We're not getting any younger. And actually, there are two industries that will prosper greatly in the next few decades because of this one unstoppable trend: ageing population.

Security and telemedicine both offer fantastic business opportunities. They will no doubt make fortunes for smart entrepreneurs. And savvy investors could make big money, too, by finding the right companies with solutions to one major problem that's arising. That is that the public sector just cannot cope.

Even if you have not arrived there already, the 'silver years' await us all. Let me depress you with a few facts. These relate to the United States, although I don't suppose the picture is very different elsewhere

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

90% of people over the age of 65 have one or more chronic diseases; one third of people over the age of 65 will experience a fall. And, in case you are young and think that this does not concern you, then be aware that within a decade, two out of every three of the baby boom generation will have to take care of their elderly parents.

Dealing with the age problem that won't go away

One prediction that we can make with certainty is that the average age of the population is rising. Today, 17% of Europeans are over 65. In fifteen years' time this number will be 23%. In the USA, the percentage will go from 13% to 20%; and even in youthful Asia, the respective numbers are 2% to 12%. This will put a massive strain on the public services that have traditionally looked after old people.

The biggest worry for the elderly is their health and their security. In the old days they would visit the doctor, or perhaps a nurse would pay them a call. Eventually, perhaps, they would end up in an old people's home, and all of this care would be paid for by the state.

So far as security was concerned, we used to have the local bobby. He would patrol the streets, pick up the local gossip, and generally keep an eye on things. The state, though, would really rather not do these things. This is not because politicians do not care about health and about crime and about old, voting, folk. It's because they know that the cost is huge. So, in the nicest possible way, the plan is to get old people to look after themselves.

Telemedicine and home security are two industries that have emerged out of the information technology age and both are set for rapid growth. Both rely upon such gizmos as sensors, radio frequency identity tags, mini cameras, transmitters and receivers and, of course, the whole backbone of the internet and wireless communications.

Thanks to such things, if an old person falls down, a sensor worn around the neck will recognise the change from the vertical to the horizontal and transmit a message to some remote help centre. Or this person could measure his or her blood pressure or glucose level and, with the push of a button, relay this information to their doctor.

Thanks to technology, a museum can place a tag on a painting so that, on the slightest movement, an alert will be sent out. A hospital can place tags on sleeping babies to make sure that nobody walks off with them. A building contractor can be notified as soon as anybody attempts to make off with all that equipment left overnight at the building site.

How to make money from this bleak vision of the future

And for you? Well, you can turn on your home's central heating when you leave the office so that you return to a nice warm house. You can place a sensor on the kitchen floor to alert you to an overflowing washing machine or rising flood waters. And if you have left the teenage kids at home and are wondering what they are getting up to, you can, on your mobile phone, dial up the images transmitted by the cameras so carefully hung in the corner of the living room.

This is all very smart. It does away with the need for house-sitters or visits by the district nurse or the local constable. In fact, it does away with all forms of personal contact, unless you count those distant voices at the call centre. So, thanks to technology the state can save lots of money and old folk can be left where they belong at home, without any form of human care and assistance whatsoever!

If you want some compensation for this bleak vision, you could, of course, invest in some of the companies that stand to benefit. Companies like Visonic (LSE:VSC), a world renowned Israeli company that has its shares traded on the London Stock Exchange, are certainly on my watch list. Like most small company shares, they are beaten up and very cheap.

I'm not buying that one right now. But I'll certainly be following these two growth industries, security and telemedicine. There will be opportunities to make big money from this in the years ahead. The hunt is on to find the right companies to invest in now so we can ride this unstoppable trend.

This article was written by Tom Bulford for The Penny Sleuth and was first published on 21 April 2009