Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
What do we mean by senior? Well, it depends on where you stand and what you are reading. Seen through the Google Glassy lens of young adults, it’s everyone aged 50+, that is, the AARP market demographic, who might be considered a senior. Or perhaps it is age 65, when Medicare eligibility and public transit discounts appear. Age 65 is also the statistical baseline for longevity projections – 20 more years of life expectancy, with one in four projected to live past 90. Now mull over a new Pew global survey about attitudes on aging -- the US stood out as "one of very few countries where a large plurality of the public believes individuals are primarily responsible for their own well-being in old age." Consider that point and read on.
What does a 40 year (from age 50 to age 90) additional lifespan mean? Social Security eligibility begins at age 62 – based on available data, the percentage claiming at 62 rose during the recession (along with unemployment). This is a sad commentary on availability of jobs for older workers – claiming at 62 in recent years has hovered around 50%. But taking Social Security at age 62 limits outside earnings to $15,480 per year per 'retiree until they reach full retirement age.' So let’s assume that the 50% taking Social Security at 62 did not believe that they had significant alternative work options. And the other 50% will keep on working as long as they can. In fact, in 2010, 30% of those aged 65-69 were still working and 21% of those 70-74 were counted in the labor force participation rate.
Let’s get focused on the real senior: not working, chronic conditions, on their own. There are 17 million Americans age 75+, more women than men. In 2010, only 8.6% of that population was in the labor force. Nearly half of the 75+ live alone. Faced with a life expectancy at 75 of at least 10 more years -- now consider that a plurality of Americans (unlike other countries) believe individuals are responsible for their well-being in old age. Well-being, let’s think about that. Half of the 75+ population has arthritis. And the most common other chronic conditions include heart disease, hypertension, cataracts and hearing impairment. Yes, there are exceptions -- check out the 86-year-old gymnast, 92-year-old runner, and this 90-year-old swim medalist. Okay, so forget the age and focus on statistically likely needs that may follow adults who live well past the age of 75.
The real senior needs better than today’s technology – it must be modular, customized based on need. The real senior may be one who is independent, competent, living alone, but faced with health changes that can slow one's pace; life changes that can make a home a scary place to be alone; low savings levels that limit freedom; and an inability to find paid work. The real senior will look at Google Glass and self-driving cars as laughable distractions. The real senior with arthritis will pick up a hard-to-clip-on tiny Fitbit with its cutsy messages and put it down. The real senior will watch as the pace of technology change obsoletes particular smart phones and tablets just as they might have offered a useful possibility -- replacing them with sleeker, costlier, too-large-to-hold, curved, tougher-to-navigate devices, with an average broadband cost of $89/month. Actual data usage on a tablet or smart phone may be sending the young into poverty – for the real senior, viewing those grandchildren YouTube videos could turn into a costly nightmare. And anyway, only one in three of those age 75+ is online, only one in five has broadband. Clearly the designers of cars, the marketers of social media, the carriers of devices and sellers of data plans don’t really want to sell to real seniors. How funny that these firms will likely saturate the markets of the young and eventually have no place else to go.