Aging in Place Technology Watch March 2011 Newsletter

Good luck dudes -- boost savings through virtual reality. So it seems that as a society, we are not great savers. Some researchers seem to think if young people could only imagine what they would look like in the future, they might boost their savings efforts earlier. Scientists in a Stanford lab are experimenting with the 'Proteus effect', morphing a photo of a 22-year-old into an image of what she might look like at 68 -- showing it to her through a virtual reality headset as her image in a mirror. Hmmm, now gray-haired, face sagging -- it's enough to make a 22-year-old nervous for a few minutes, long enough to answer questions about her attitudes on money, demonstrating newfound awareness and a desire to save. Maybe just looking at her grandmother, volunteering in an assisted living facility or making the trek to The Villages would produce the same 'scientific' outcome, prompting a 22-year-old to save more for retirement. The reality (not virtual)? In another poll, 18-34 year olds are more determined than older age groups to save money. Maybe Stanford could save a few bucks and apply its research to something more near-term -- how to train bankers.

Retire later, live longer and more cost-effectively. No surprise, according to this Senior Housing reflection on our Inflation Nation, that "10% growth in property taxes, home maintenance, fuel, food, gas and other household expenses every 5 years will deplete assets more quickly or retirees will need to work part time." And that doesn't reflect the surprise of lower death rates (4.9% decrease among those aged 75-84), now at an all-time low, aka longer life expectancy. So what're we going to do with all that time, besides work longer? We will stay as engaged as is physically feasible, according to this Huffington Post column about some wonderful (some still working) folks in their 90 and beyond years. In the next 30 years, there will be a 233% increase in the 80+ population -- current housing experiments -- whether it is virtual villages/intentional communities, co-housing, or NORCs -- will no doubt be demanded and mainstream by then -- reducing future housing costs, enabling greater social connection amid longer life expectancies.

Intersection of value -- smartphone senior cross over year 2016? Let's assume that projections are accurate (hah!) and that smartphones will overtake feature phones by the end of this year -- and that someone's survey indicates only 4.9% of the 65+ are using them. Do you believe that?  Neither does 83-year-old Herb Bowman - check him out. Somehow, with 28% of mobile phone owners having smartphones as of July, iPhones and Androids to the young, BlackBerries to the 65+ population, I wonder about the future of senior-centric 'feature' phones (Doro, Just5, Jitterbug J, Snapfon -- for example) -- even for those not as tech-tolerant as Herb. These feature phones have a lower price for both plans and the phone, simpler user interface, better amplification.  But you have to wonder -- and of course I wonder, because no survey breaks down the population beyond age 65, is there really a cost barrier? Or a perceived value barrier?  Value is what pushed older adults to acquire cell phones in the first place. As with computers -- a cell phone has become worth the hassle factor to have something that (no pun intended) is a lifeline when out and about. I hope providers produce easier-to-use smartphones with lower cost plans, but as the 65-year-olds pass the age of 70, a plethora of apps will propel them will cross the intersection of value: the tradeoff between price/complexity and greater expectation.

In other blog posts from March:

Without support, tech change is daunting.  What if CVS or Walgreens upgraded their photo counter staff with some tech support skills, where you could come in with your prescription refill and sign up for a time slot with a tech person who knows your device, can explain what anti-virus software you might need, give you a personalized bit of advice -- based on a displayed menu of tech products the staffer understands?  Rather than force folks into a tech store, bring tech skills into places where older adults already go.  Don't sell them a device -- sell them service and knowledge about devices they already own.

Design tech for all ages -- not just the young. The market divide between the now-blurring boomer-to-senior transition will fade. Easier-to-use and appealing user interfaces can find a market in multiple age groups, including people who are over age of 70, especially tech that is brightly back-lit with adjustable text size that doesn't need an IT department to keep it virus-free. In fact, it's now apparent that amplification, brightness adjustment, text size, text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and touch screen adjustability -- these are features (or attributes). All tech products should have them -- and increasingly all tech products will have them. These features will render technology for seniors less important than included services and support; the call center as important as the device used to call it; the 'social' will become the important part of networking.

Caring for the elderly -- the work can and must improve. Ask yourself -- how many professionals go out into high schools and talk to students about why geriatric nursing specialties might be as personally fulfilling as pediatrics? How about a few organizations -- like Philips, for example, creating videos for high school students about the industry that has formed to serve older adults? How about mentor programs that are commissioned by AARP and rolled out to the states about why YOU should care about elder care?  How about a championship team of entrepreneurs, caregiving professionals and community services organizations brainstorming about what can and should be done to make elder care matter more in our society?

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Hope to see you soon at one place or the other (noted on the home page as well).

And the Survey Says...

"In another poll, 18-34 year olds are more determined than older age groups to save money."

This made me laugh. This is because they are mostly still living at home with their parents. Easy to save money if Mom buys the toilet paper. :<)

Spoiled by the All-in-1 gadget (NY Times)

An argument that includes a list (with prices) of the gadgets required to duplicate functionality of a smartphone.  So apparently we should be calm when prices actually rise. I am glad he didn't include the PC/laptop (although he did name a calculator). Typing even these few sentences of content on a smartphone (including an iPad) -- impossible.

And another rundown on smartphone choices versus conventional cell phones.

Wishful thinking or inevitable trend?

I was struck by your prediction that:

"whether it is virtual villages/intentional communities, co-housing, or NORCs -- will no doubt be demanded and mainstream by then."

I hope you're right....How can this trend be supported and expedited?

housing trends

I think the key word in that sentence is "demanded." Basic economics will expedite the trend. When enough seniors can't afford current housing options, the alternatives will begin to take root, i.e. be demanded. A similar situation exists with technology innovations that will enable older adults to age-in-place. They're currently being developed (supply is being created) but the demand isn't there yet. Kind of the chicken and egg story. One way to expedite demand is to educate, create different conversations, shift consciousness.

Nice analysis.

Kate, I totally agree with your proposition that:
"One way to expedite demand is to educate, create different conversations, shift consciousness."

I'd suggest that these three efforts be focused on people in their homes with some sort of direct selling model supported by social media marketing.

Yes..it takes time and money and the right incentives to build a highly trained, reliable and motivated sales/product education/ after-sale service sales network, but the upside ROI on such an investment is very substantial for any AIP technology company with the vision and determination to succeed.

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