The Wall Street Journal is excited (not quite to the point of wetting its pants excited) about an entrepreneurial idea to market disposal adult diapers. What is special is that these diapers (nappies we would say) are not just larger than your normal baby-range:

“Kevin Wong, an engineer from Guangzhou, China, has developed a new product that he thinks will appeal to nursing homes and hospitals. His Hong-Kong based start-up, Ckicom Technology Ltd., sells a disposable adult diaper equipped with a moisture sensor and a wireless system that sends wetness alerts to nursing-home workers via personal computers and mobile phones.

A small clip-on sensor device attached to the diaper detects moisture through special carbon ink prints on the diaper’s inner surface and sends the information wirelessly to PCs and mobile phones. The clip-on device isn’t disposable. Ckicom’s CAREase diaper…can detect wetness at three different levels, eliminating the need for workers to repeatedly check residents’ diapers just to see whether they need to be replaced. ‘It helps nursing homes upgrade their services,’ Mr. Wong said.”

The idea is so impressive that The Wall Street Journal has chosen it to be one of 12 finalists for “The Wall Street Journal’s Asian Innovation Awards”.  This is just one indicator of how businesses are sensing the change in the demographic winds.  The thinking is simple: there are going to be more elderly people in East Asia in the coming decades, therefore there will be opportunities for age-related products and services with a growing consumer base.  And there are plenty of reasons to believe that that thinking will be proved right:

“The number of elderly persons in the [Asia-Pacific] region—already home to more than half of the world’s population aged 60 and over—is expected to triple to more than 1.2 billion by 2050, when one in four people in the region will be over 60 years old, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.”

Thus, start-ups are getting in on the action, but established companies are also moving in.  In Japan, Watami Company (which operated Japanese style izakaya pubs) entered into the business of running nursing homes in 2005.  In the most recent financial year, the new nursing business was more profitable than the izakaya business.  Elsewhere, IHH Helathcare Bhd, Asia’s largest hospital operator by market value, has had the third largest IPO of 2012 after raising US$2 billion.

“Analysts said that population aging in Asia and the rest of the world makes IHH a good long-term investment.”

As for the CAREase diaper, the potential market is growing. It is being tested in Hong Kong in five nursing homes and Hong Kong expects the percentage of its population aged 65 and up to increase to 26% in 2036, up from 12% in 2006.  That is potentially a lot of wet diapers. 


Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...