By 2020, 40 percent of the Belgian population will be over 50. They will want to have fun, travel, and stay healthy and mobile in their own (renovated) homes. These four professionals understand that seniors will soon rule the world, and though it might not be terribly sexy, it’s the future.

Christophe Urvoy

General Manager, Senior Agency

Senior Agency is the only senior marketing company in Belgium. They specialise in generational marketing and “baby boomer monitoring.”

Older people have higher accumulated savings per head than younger people. So where are all the ads targetting them? Urvoy explains: “Many advertisers are afraid of doing something for older people, they think they will lose the younger. But when you’re 30, you have to pay for your house, your children… when you’re 50, everything is paid for. You’ve got time and money.” He says there is also confusion as to what “senior” actually means. “You ask someone to name a senior celebrity and they say Jacques Chirac. But a senior is Sharon Stone, who still appears naked in Paris Match. 86 percent of seniors don’t recognise themselves in advertising, incredible but true.” And don’t look to your grandparents’ experience of retirement as a model for your own, he warns. “Before WWII, we didn’t have a lot of seniors. You worked all your life and then you died. The last generation are the first ones to live to be so old. The baby boomers have watched their parents, they know what’s going to happen, that they will live another 20 or 30 years, and they are wondering what they can do with themselves.”

Dirk Lefeber

Head of Department of Mechanical Engineering, ULB/VUB

The Robotics and Multibody Mechanics Research Group researches new actuators with adaptable compliance, dynamically balanced robots, robot assistants, rehabilitation robotics and multibody dynamics.

Aging isn’t only about the frail, but maintaining mobility is key to maintaining independence. Lefeber develops companion robots for children, as well as exoskeletons for the elderly. “What I am personally interested in is assistive devices to help people in their daily living. Things that can help people walk. You see elderly people who can walk for only 15 or 20 metres and then they get tired, they risk falling. We are building assistive devices to allow them to walk 200 metres instead.” The choice to stay in your own home is a big issue for seniors. “Not to walk around in the woods but to move around your living room or kitchen.” he says. What will it look like? “Thats a big challenge. The devices are relatively bulky at the moment. What we are developing now will be more for ourselves, within 10 or 15 years these robots will be in our homes. We are not far from a scenario where we use exoskeletons for mobility.”

Mathieu Lefevre

Course Coordinator, Université des Ainés, Brussels

The UDA is a life-long learning service whose activities include more than 200 educational courses and workshops, plus conferences, seminars, and cultural excursions for the elderly in Brussels and Louvain la Neuve.

Living until 100 will soon be normal. That leaves three or four decades between retirement and death. What to do? Lefevre organises courses, seminars and conferences at the Université des Ainés, a day school for seniors, whose curriculum includes everything from maths to meditation.“We have an 81 year old studying information technology. Everyone has their place.” he says, adding that there are no qualifications to be gained at the UDA. “There is a real need for self-enrichment, but also to make connections, friendships, with others. It’s not for a diploma.” Particularly useful, he says, is the opportunity for intergenerational exchange. “I remember there was a young history teacher who was giving a lesson on WWII. He was really happy because of the exchange of knowledge with the students.” The popularity of schools like the UDA is growing. Its numbers have swelled to 3,400 in recent years. “We are not the only one. There are more and more older people in retirement, and the need is becoming more real. It’s a reflection of modern society.”

Marysia Kluppels

Marketing and Communications Manager, DELA Funeral insurance

DELA is a a non-profit cooperative that organises funerals, and the only company in Belgium that sells funeral insurance.

“Many people say “I’m going to save money in the bank so if anything happens to me, the people I leave behind can have it.” But in a lot of cases, people don’t keep the money for their funeral because they want to travel, or buy something that they always dreamt of. The problem is also that we are living much longer, and people need to spend more money on “care” (service flats, nursing…). In the end there is nothing left for funerals. And who ends up paying is getting more complicated. Due to the increased amount of divorces, there are more “new composed families”. We see more in case ofsudden death, people start arguing about who pays for the funeral. The new partner? Or the legitimate children of the deceased who will inherit? Only a minority take action to prevent financial calamity. It’s very sensitive because our message is always related to death. It’s taboo. But it’s all about taking care of people at one of the most difficult times in their life. Since I started working here, I live more intensely, more aware that every day could be my last.”