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Market Overview for Technology for Aging in Place

Monthly blog archive

Five new technologies for aging in place

Rounding up from a series of press releases over the past two months, here are some new technologies and/or services that may be new to you, for use by or in support of older adults.  All material is from the vendor published information:

Securus, Inc. offers the eCare+Voice Mobile Medical Alert System.  "eCare+Voice was designed to enable active seniors to live confidently and independently. It is a one-­‐of-­‐a-­‐kind, compact emergency phone that connects users with the Securus Emergency Care Center via two-­‐way voice communication, just by pressing the alert button. Unlike other medical alert devices, eCare+Voice is fully self-­‐contained and works indoors and outdoors, anywhere in the US, with a powerful microphone and speaker built directly into the unit. The eCare+Voice unit has a long-­‐lasting battery and can be recharged using a cord-­‐free, inductive charging pad."  Learn more at SecurusGPS.com.

Alpha Geek caregivers and health apps -- really?

Who knew that Alpha Geek caregivers may be interested in health startups?  Pew’s just-out research publication, Family Caregivers Online, prompted a column in tech pub Gigaom to suggest that health startups should market to Alpha Geek caregivers. These front-running tech types give us a sense of 'what the future will be like.' There are so many mutually exclusive words (health startup, caregiver, alpha Geek) in that phrase that it begs for analysis.  Let’s start with the Pew data: 30% of adults play some sort of caregiving role, and eight in ten of these caregivers have access to the Internet, making them ‘online caregivers,’ the majority of whom look for health information more often than online users who are not caregivers.  No kidding. This reinforced and is roughly consistent with the National Alliance for Caregiving report of similar in 2009.

Put the human back into engineering

The product user interface of today can madden the seniors of tomorrow.  I am looking at the console of a Volvo right now. Mulling over the SOURCE/Push Scan knob -- turn it to switch from FM to AM, PUSH it to SCAN the channels, PUSH again to stop scanning.  This is an eight-year-old car, and it took most of the first few years of perusing the owner’s manual to figure out how to use the radio (PTY, TP, NEWS buttons I’ve left untouched). But brand new cars have achieved a new level. Just starting up a newer car -- never mind the radio -- requires a long training session, watching the sales rep, taking notes. For one car expert I know, it was not clear how to get a brand new, automatic transmission BMW out of PARK -- without instruction. 

Should tech support disconnect from retail?

Waiting for the Geek or someone like him.  So you probably noticed that Best Buy (in its never-ending cost-cutting downward slide) just laid off 1200 store employees and while they were at it, they also cut 600 Geek Squad employees.  Just when the AARP discount on in-home services was launched! But it is all part of moving the staff from “repair to relationship,” migrating to a smaller store format, away from so-called ‘big box’ and suffering from competition – from Wal-Mart, Costco, and Sears. Yeah, right. From Sears and Costco (only when in-home service is covered by manufacturer’s warranty and the product is not a Dell).  Let us remember that Best Buy’s Geek service charges $49.99 for in-home visits and that they include products you bought elsewhere -- I'm betting your plumber charges more than that.  The annual membership for this service is quite low -- $199.99 per year -- $17/month or $4.25 per week.

The death of landlines – woe to seniors who depend on them

Bad weather, no power, misery all around.  So by now you may know that there was a major storm that generated (besides rain and lightning) outages in the greater Washington, DC area that brought Amazon and Netflix down for a while, and knocked out Internet, TV, cellular and landline access (including E911) for several million people – and for several days.  For 1 in 4 people, it will be a few more days before the various utilities get everything running again. You also know that only 56% of those aged 76+ have a cell phone and that seniors have been the last to give up landlines.  

Who will buy all the useful technology for seniors -- and by what date?

Senior housing organizations want to accelerate development and adoption. Reading an interview with Majd Alwan, SVP and Executive Director of Leading Age’s CAST group, you would believe that we are on the cusp of widespread adoption of technology for older adults in the senior housing: Says Majd: "CAST brings developers—big ones like Phillips and Intel-GE Care Innovations, all the way to small start-ups—together with forward thinking and pioneering service providers who understand the value of technology and are exploring technology-enabled care models and implementing them in their communities, and researchers."

The more things remain the same, sometimes they change

Don’t see the products your constituents need? Launch a fund to get them created. Sometimes organizations become frustrated with the pace of change and decide to do something about it. One of those is Link-age in Mason, Ohio, a group purchasing organization that buys on behalf of 450 senior living communities in 39 states. The organization, led by CEO Scott Collins, is launching a $20 million ‘gray’ national fund to accelerate creation of products and services for seniors. Local investment banker, John Hopper, managing director of the new Link-age Ventures (partnered with CincyTech), rightly observes: "We haven’t bumped into anyone else in the industry doing anything similar." Says Collins: "Entrepreneurs are eager to address the market, but few understand the needs."  The investors will make money when the companies are sold – which they surely will be if they do find new and innovative ways to address, as Scott Collins indicates, the food, shelter, transportation and socialization needs of older adults -- well beyond the boomer age ranges of 48 to 66. 

Groundhog Day – health tech is destined for re-discovery

If institutional discovery equaled adoption, health technologies would be pervasive.  Can you believe it? The New England Health Institute researched chronic disease technologies to watch – and resolved to watch the technologies already under observation, if not broad deployment, for many years. One of the amazing aspects of following an industry over time is to watch the perpetual re-discovery of its newness. The report depicts an industry that is a never-ending sandbox of futures:  between research groups deciding to invent their own technologies rather than purchase commercial product and research institutes discovering tech categories like in-home telehealth that been around for years – now, according to NEHI, they may emerge (if policies are changed.) Yes, and if the constituents that might use them agree -- which makes a market.

Squeezing out the doctor? Not by a long shot

Evidence undermines the Economist title. Just like the New York Times and New Yorker long articles, when the Economist speaks, it looks weighty and credible. But the Economist’s Squeezing out the Doctor article is mostly about what the writer has just discovered -- which has been the case for years, but without his knowledge. Take this example, which clearly impressed: “Patients are much happier to monitor themselves at home with gadgets bought online than they used to be [really!], and gadget-makers think there is a huge potential for growth in taking the trend further. Philips is trying to crack Japan with emergency-alert devices for the elderly.” Hmm. Philips has marketed this type of product ever since they bought Lifeline 7 years ago. The PERS industry is a 20-year-old market disconnected from MDs that needs a responder to opt for a next step. And it is reimbursement of doctors (or lack thereof) that hampers progress in the overhyped telehealth market, that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink world spanning ‘robotic surgery to patient-to-patient email.’ 

Internet and oldest adults -- closing the gap

So internet use is up -- for almost everyone.  The latest survey from Pew is out -- and Internet use among the 65+ age segment is up -- more than half of those surveyed say they are online. But that would be the age band from 65 to 75 -- sometimes referred to as the 'young old'.  After 75, only 34% are online, and only one in five have home broadband. (As you must know by now, even reading this blog would be an endurance test at dial-up speeds -- and it has no graphics!) For the two-thirds of those aged 76 and beyond that are not online yet -- it seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Non-users in previous surveys said that to use the Internet would require training and help to go online. Yet non-users also indicated lack of relevance as a reason not to bother. But if they don't have the training to make it happen, it seems tough to determine if the content found there is relevant or not. Could be anything ranging from a WebMD symptom checker to  discounts to health information from NCOA to free online courses offered by MIT. To me, that implies that action is required -- and it is more than the initiative by AARP and the Geek Squad. 

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