Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Move over, Jitterbug. An intriguing new cell phone announcement popped up on my screen this week that could -- with some in-your-face marketing -- give the cell phone super marketer some competition in the senior cell phone market.
The Clarity C900 is both an amplified cell phone and PERS device. Here's the gist of the announcement: "Clarity, a leading supplier of communications solutions for older Americans, today released the ClarityLife(R) C900(TM), an easy-to-use amplified mobile phone that doubles as an emergency response device.Seniors can place or receive calls with the ClarityLife C900, retailing for $269.95 by using four oversized buttons on the front of the phone which allow them to easily navigate their top contacts. They also can use a full slide-out keypad with large numbers. Furthermore, the C900's screen is twice the size of a normal phone with magnified text and bright back-lighting."" We spoke with Jamie van den Bergh, VP of marketing at Clarity, to learn more.
Hearing loss accompanies aging. Clarity, a unit of Plantronics, is a long-time supplier of amplified telephones, assistive listening devices, and other technologies for hard-of-hearing and hearing impared. The firm has patented technology for digital signal processing that reduces noise and cleans up the sound. This phone, however, is aimed at the overall senior market. It's an 'unlocked' phone, meaning you can use it with any GSM network like AT&T or T-Mobile. The offers 20-decibel amplification for seniors with hearing loss. It can be programmed remotely -- and can link to a call center or have caregiver phone numbers programmed to receive the first calls.Says Jamie: "60-75% of seniors have cell phones -- and we wanted to help provide security and peace of mind when they are out and about. But most cell phones don't have a sound quality that would help folks with any hearing loss. Many don't wear hearing aides, in fact hearing aide penetration is only 18%, which, frankly, is largely an issue of cost." A few notes on that -- In fact, 30-40% of people over the age of 65 are hearing-impaired, 50% aged 75 and older, 80% those over 85. So chances are, the amplification in this phone could be useful to baby boomers but it could have extremely high benefit to their parents.
Those baby boomers talk a good game, but... A brief and somewhat depressing digression: To educate itself and its customers about seniors and the aging in place market, in 2007 Clarity cosponsored a study on senior and boomer attitudes about aging in place. Aside from a not-surprising finding that seniors fear nursing homes more than death, one other finding caught my attention -- 51% of baby boomers think there are technology products available aimed at meeting the needs of seniors. Only 14% have actually looked for any.
PERS utilitization is poor -- but cell phones are another story. For all of the seniors out there that wear a PERS device (fewer than 25% of those who might need them), reluctance to put it on or press the button (fear of bothering someone) is often cited as a barrier. Furthermore, they only work when the senior is at home. But with a growing percentage carrying cell phones, one that doubles as a PERS device and amplifies the sound for those with hearing loss -- that seems like a winning combination.