Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Reinventing the aging experience – who will transform this market? Over the weekend I saw a Woody Allen movie (he is now 77 and in trouble in Mumbai), read an article about Robert Redford (he is also 77), noted that Bill Cunningham -- the NY Times bicyclist-about-town -- is now 85, Betty White (accused of ageism this week) is now 91. These are well-to-do and well-noticed folk – likely they feel secure in their limos, the NY streets or wherever. You wanna bet that none is considering or would ever consider moving into a CCRC or an Assisted Living, or wearing a PERS device around their neck, mobile or otherwise?
Assisted living and PERS are the domain of families of the oldest and frailest. Increasing longevity – anticipated or a surprise and unprecedented in history – is the future of more and more aging adults. There were more than 2 million seniors who were in their 90’s after the last census. Eventually, most will not be like Betty White or even Helen Cairnes in Palm Beach – they will outlive their resources, maybe their mental or physical capacity, and to be fair, they are not the target market of PERS or ALF marketers – both of which do not offer useful options for the very frail, the very poor, or the most demented among the very old. But what if the statistics with scare warnings about the percentages that will have disabilities or severe dementia are incorrect – and for a growing number, 90+ is a good life, as it is likely to be for Woody, Robert, Bill and apparently Betty?
Is it time to make cool and appealing products and services for older adults? Smart phones are always competing to appear cool, even as their functions may be buggy or awkward and their ‘phone-ness’ does not yet match a feature phone. So Lively’s remote home monitoring device, white and sleek, looks like it was designed, not just built. Yet it is performing a similar function as its numerous (and less cool-looking) predecessors. Perhaps they could partner with folks who produce dreary-looking memory care wander bracelets. New memory care designs like the Cottages at Cedar Run are attempting to improve the beauty, look and feel of a locked memory unit inside more traditional assisted living architecture. If cool buildings and devices had redesigned processes to match them, fundamentally changing from a staff-optimized to a resident-centric approach, that would be cooler still.
Too often, design and function match the customer’s low expectations. Today’s PERS device is an artifact of desperation – fear of falling. Today’s assisted living memory care units -- a ‘gold rush for the industry’ -- are targeted to family shoppers who are similarly desperate. In either case, the prospective customers are not expecting innovation (like the Cottages at Cedar Run) or slick physical designs (like Lively). If they have a moment where they realize that their low expectations have been exceeded, that there is something delightful – beyond basic functionality – and if these examples are part of an overall trend to rethink the healthcare/medical and function-ugliness of products and places for frail seniors, finding a way to delight – now that wouldn’t that be cool?