"The more things change the more they remain the same." It's been over a year since I posted a criticism of the 'gadget' approach to technologies for aging in place. Rather than randomly selected gadgets and gizmos, I suggested a more structured way of thinking about the market -- I referred to as 'the senior value chain'. Let's recap from 9/23/08 with a few additions:
"While collecting gadgets that may or may not prove useful has always be fun for some -- as gadgets and gizmos, these products are not going to help boomers stay independent in our later years And furthermore, marketing these gadgets as such will ensure that they stay as soon-to-be-obsolete gadgets -- not integrated into the existing home environment, not capable of being integrated with other solutions, not supported by service providers who are regularly in the home.
The overall marketplace - a value chain. As we think about this marketplace of technologies, growing all the time, vendors should place prospective customers into a view that I think of as the Senior Value Chain. The aging person is a member of this value chain, but so are their adult children (aka caregivers) help these adult children find solutions to problems that their parents are having. In addition to seniors, caregivers, geriatric care managers social workers, discharge planners, home care agencies, independent and assisted living providers are all in it. As the scale of problems grow, there must be a coherent view of this market -- so that gadget designers don't try to sell to assisted living companies and systems-oriented solutions aren't mistakenly targeted directly at consumers."
That's true, but doesn't go far enough. Some technologies are really part of systems -- that is they are comprised of alerting and responding components (sensor-based home monitoring, telehealth devices, personal emergency response devices, wearable fall detection devices, Alzheimer's wandering devices). All have some sort of base station in or near a residence and a transmission of data -- or the absence of transmission of data -- that must be interpreted. The alert-respond process must be described and understood. Even simple 'systems' in which a button is pressed and a call center is alerted require configuration, training, re-charging, periodic testing, retraining and reminders over time what to expect. Sensors for activity monitoring or Alzheimer's wanderer devices must be configured and responders clearly identified.
Personal emergency response systems (medical alert) miss the market as gadgets. Looking at a page from ActiveForever, here is a gadget offer, the LogicMark Guardian 911. It costs $149 with an additional $34.95 for battery backup. Wearable, no service fees, press the button, it calls 911. No other responders (besides police) are configured, no reminders to charge the battery, no information captured about frequency of use, it's just a gadget, likely to be bought and not worn (like at least half of all PERS devices) or worn and not pressed in an emergency. Who wants to bother the police if you're not sure it's an emergency, and how can you call the police if you're unconscious?
Value chain marketing -- service AND product, to consumers AND responders. Participants in the long value chain that serves boomers and seniors who need help remaining independent (for whatever reason) need to identify process, roles, backup roles, service contacts, and reminder approaches for the use of system technologies -- again, any that have transmit and respond capabilities.
Patterns matter: use and non-use, information -- and information gaps. In the IT world, vendors would sometimes get away with selling a transaction-oriented software system before they had actually written a reporting system to go with it (orders, but no order history). But that's exactly what is happening in the aging technology world of 'real-time' gadget-based alerts with no pattern detection or grasp of the absence of activity. And if the patterns of behaviors must be noted by a person, where are the experience guidelines that tell that person what others may have already learned may be worrisome?
Next: Training the value chain participants to incorporate technology into their work.