The real elderly are hidden behind demographic murkiness

Silly segmentation strikes again.  You probably didn't think about it if you read about HP's proposed new wristwatch in today's business pages of the NY Times.  Did you know that between 2008 and 2010, sale of watches fell 29% in the 18-24 age group, rose 33% in the 35-44 age group and 104% for those 65 and older?  Okay, no big deal, you say.  NPD Group, keeper of these stats, reports this as though a 6-year age range, a 9 year age range, and a 25+ year age range have comparable purchasing characteristics within the range. Misinterpretation opportunity looms large -- and if you are a watch manufacturer, it may not be time to plan on closing the business within the next 10 years based on whether 'young shoppers' may care.   In fact, it would have been great to ask a few older adults if they'd like HP's proposed wireless watch (with hands!) which could be programmed with canned responses and might have utility -- maybe even expanding the PERS opportunity downward.

Look more closely at the 65+ age range. Not a trivial group -- 39 million last year, a mere 13% of the US population today, but surging forward with bulging baby boomer segment additions. Of the current 39 million, 5.8 million are 85+, representing the fastest-growing age cohort in the US. What do the 85+ have in common with the 65-75-year-olds? Aside from being lumped by NPD and media into one bucket, that is. Survival, for one thing -- if you live to be 65 in the United States, the odds are good that you'll make it to at least 83.5 -- for those who reach age 85, women will live another 6.8 years, men between 5 and 7 more years. Oops. The spread between 65 and 90+ is looming a bit large -- a 90-year-old may very well have children who are 65 to 70.  Surely, these two ends of an age spectrum need different products, but more to the point, so many in the range of 65-and-beyond will need to care for and help those with long life expectancies, not to simply survive, but to live as well as possible (see Huffington Post and Silver Planet for some inspiration about living those extra years).

Reading about the crisis in Japan, let's not abandon the real elderly.  Left behind in retirement facilities, nursing homes, perhaps making up a disproportionate percentage of those who are counted among lives lost, one has to wonder. Consider those in the US -- in senior housing, retirement communities, and condominium complexes throughout places like Arizona and Florida, where the adult children may be unlikely to reside; where hurricanes, tornados, flooding, sudden cold, or failing air conditioning are crisis conditions for the elderly. Does everyone who knows someone living alone and away from their family also know what the escape or support plan is to help them in the event of a disaster? What are the top ways to monitor and stay connected to them?

Hearing, monitoring, seeing, connecting. These are key tasks that matter as life span lengthens and maybe even marketers get wise to sub-segmentation of the oldest age ranges -- the upper end of the 65+. So usable telephones (land and cell) top the list, usable for those with arthritis and Parkinson's, able to persist on battery, with multiple and easily charged mobile batteries. Captioned telephones for the hearing-impaired -- many of whom do not wear hearing aids until long past the point of enjoying phone conversations. Then add magnification and Internet-enabled cameras -- I was pleased to see that the latest Humana/Care Innovations pilot of Intel's Health Guide includes a camera -- hopefully the pilot in Tampa will include a sizable number of the real elderly. But then add computers and Internet service for the real elderly so that they can see and be seen on webcams -- what's it mean when a Google search of 'Help seniors access Internet' returns three Australian web addresses in the first seven results? Or check out SeniorNet (targeting the 50+? Huh?) when there is no listed Florida Learning Center and only 2 in Arizona? When (Pew Research) reports that only 30% of those age 75 and older go online and only 20% have home broadband (eliminating the usefulness of Skype and clear images of family members). When AARP lumps the real elderly into the 50+ Digital Divide and, unfortunately, appears these days to set survey (and enrollment) sights set on the 45+?

If you think the Internet doesn't matter for the real elderly, think again. I am also reminded of one of the big disasters in the US -- 9/11 -- and how cell phones and land-lines services that day became useless as networks clogged under the weight of worry. But as I recall, AOL Instant Messenger was up and accessible by dispersed family members throughout a very long day. And I think about Facebook messages from Americans in Japan alerting their families when they became unreachable by phone. And I wonder how many of the real elderly were reachable through an Internet connection during either crisis?

Internet Usage by Elderly Father

I introduced my father to the internet age about 2 years ago when high speed internet became affordable. The key thing to make it easy for them is to bookmark as many of their favorites sites as possible, so that one click will get them there. My father loves Google because he knows that the whole world is out there by typing in a simple phrase. He likes to view You Tube videos of songs from his generation and even the newer entertainers like Terry Fator. Patience is the key to working with the elderly and practice makes perfect.

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