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Five Trends Driving Potential of Wearables and Older Adults

Wearables are nothing new – except in how they are used.  The Quantified Self movement, coined as a term in Wired in 2007, simply described the growing interest in tracking those personal characteristics that could be recorded and analyzed by the user of wearable technology. From activity trackers that gained popularity in the past decade, to introduction of smart watches by Apple in 2015, the adoption of wearables by older adults has continued to grow.  New products fuel interest about their potential for older adult health-related benefit, such as the Oura Ring, the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 Active, or the Bose SoundControl hearing aid.

Five Wearable Tech Offerings for 2021

Not your mother’s pendant or your father’s blood pressure cuff. Today’s wearables, adopted by only a small percentage of older adults, have possibilities for helping many.  Research interviews for The Future of Wearables and Older Adults 2021 report, published in June, show notable change in this market. Wearables today have moved beyond the PERS pendant functionality so long marketed to older adults. Today’s devices, whether on ear, hand, or wrist,  may incorporate AI, enable personalization, track multiple health attributes, notice change, predict future issues, or even provide guidance for suggested health improvements.  Here are five examples discussed with their execs in research interviews -- all content comes from the company website or reviews:

Check Out Tech Surveys: Four Blog Posts from April, 2021

April 2021 – the season for tech surveys.  Tech adoption continues apace.  If the new AARP Tech Trends of the 50+ and Pew Mobile Fact Sheet surveys were representative, fewer and fewer older adults are missing out on technology use. Unfortunately, both of these surveys band upper age responders into age 70+ and 65+ respectively – so it is impossible to detect what the Real Seniors aged 75+ are using. Today there are at least 23 million people in the US age 75+.  Don’t they deserve a demographic sub-category? Especially given the bad news from the January Humana report stating that 22 million aged 65+ lack broadband and thus miss a great deal. Are they living alone? In rural areas?  What if a government agency wanted to provide them with a free broadband plan, a smartphone and smart watch, how would they be located?

AARP 2021 Tech Trends Survey -- is the tech glass half empty?

First the ‘good news’ about tech adoption…  According to AARP’s newest technology adoption report, just published, older adults are positive about the role technology can play in their lives during and after Covid-19. They are chatting via video, using social media livestreams and modernizing their technology. They are buying smart TVs, costly smartphones, and earbuds.  The survey reports that 20% of the 70+ age range owns a wearable, possibly a smartwatch. Also notable, considering that most wearables are still paired with them, smartphone ownership, according to this survey, has risen most sharply among those aged 70+, with 77% of responders indicating they own one. This is a number worth questioning, however, since Pew Research's most recent mobile fact sheet indicates that only 61% of the 65+ have smartphones.

For older adults, the future of wearables is predictive

Wearable devices make up an $81.5 billion global market in 2021. According to Gartner’s January 2021 forecast, this was driven by increased consumer interest in tracking their health status during the pandemic (smart watches) and the growth of remote work (purchases and upgrades to headphones and ear-warn devices). According to one insider, 3-5 million Apple watches alone have been purchased by adults age 65+. And AARP’s newest technology adoption report, just published, notes that 20% of the 70+ age range own a wearable.  Also notable, considering that most wearables are still paired with them, smartphone ownership has risen most sharply among the 70+, with 77% of survey responders indicating they own one.

PEW: 25% of seniors age 65+ are not online. That's a problem.

Pew Research just published its periodic survey about Internet use. Let’s assume consensus that growing the percentage of those using the Internet was a social good. Let’s assume that many are now concerned that older adults may have missed vaccine sign-up opportunities without access to the Internet.  Pew’s survey categories included: Age, Rural/Urban, Male-Female, Income, Race, and Education.  The result is pretty much ho-hum – if you look only at the headline – 7% of Americans Don’t use the Internet.  Let’s say that 77% of the American population are adults (using Census data). Translating the Pew number to non-users of the Internet  results in nearly 23 million people.  Not a trivial number.  Too bad there were no correlations between Age, Education, Income with Internet use.  But we can guess what we could find.

Why should people trust technology? 

Do consumers trust technology?  Not so much -- just ask them. This question was asked on a recent Edelman Trust Barometer, responder age was capped at 64.  And the survey showed that the largest drop in trust for a category from 2020-2021 was in technology (summarized here in a single graph) – for some, not trusted. What categories were the most trusted?  Food and beverage, healthcare, transportation, education and consumer packaged goods.  What’s this mean?  According to Edelman: “The tech industry is now being held to account for all manner of societal ills -- from information bankruptcy to job loss, to human rights, to the mass-class divide.

Four Aging and Health Technology Blog Posts from March 2021

March was an unusually innovative age tech month – now let’s get organized.  What did it all mean? Here’s a thought about this market, where the beneficiary of an innovation is an older adult, and the innovation could improve quality of life. A federal agency (or other national entity) could help individuals and organizations find a product that is needed with a product/service registry.  A government agency could start a registry of these products/services – this one with staying power. You might remember AbleData – a product registry of 40,000 mobility aids and assistive technologies. It was conceived in 1982 and  rolled into the responsibility of a federal agency in 1984, now part of the Administration for Community Living.  What happened? Its useful website lasted more than 35 years. Then in 2020 it was abruptly shut down – with no further explanation - a caution for the next age tech registry. Here are the four blog posts from March 2020:

Five interesting and useful technologies for older adults

Events cropped up again in March that help accelerate interest in and ultimately benefit for older adults. One of these was the Longevity Health & Innovation Summit, which featured numerous longevity and technology experts as well as a pitch challenge. Today the CTA Foundation pitch competition is being held in partnership with AARP Innovation Labs. And last week, the CABHI Summit 2021, in which several of these offerings below were presented.  All these events provide a platform for innovation competitions, presentations, collaborations and networking among funders and innovators in the age-related technology market segments. Check above links to see full lists from all three.

Ten tips for launching a product or service in the older adult market

Today or soon you will launch a boomer/senior, home care offering, wearable product or a new service to help seniors or other new market entrants. As your company gets ready to travel into an online event battle with a plethora of pitches, it is time for a quick review of this guidance. Check the list out before your new offering launches First read existing content and research reports on your particular market segment. Then look over this updated checklist that was first published on this website in 2010 and revised each year since. The advice continues to hold true – with updated links and references. If necessary, refine tactics to match the most useful tools for your category:

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