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May 2011

Aging in Place Technology Watch May 2011 Newsletter

Age before beauty -- how about plain old tech design usability?  Palo Alto pundits pondered SRI's 2011 'Ten Tech Trends' this week. Fortunately for the cynical among the non-attendees, a transcript was provided.  "Trend # 1 -- Age Before Beauty -- Baby Boomers will dictate the technology products of the future."  Hmm. Arguments for having more tech designed specifically for older adults included referencing the big-buttoned Jitterbug phone and the fact that the whole country will soon be like Florida (population? weather forecast?). Supporter panelist Steve Jurvetson made the case for more age-inspired entrepreneurship, but Ajay Senkut from Clarium Capital objected (along with the attendees) and said that boomers and beyond would buy and use technology that is well-designed for all. The flip-side of this trend should have been discussed and wasn't -- why is so much tech disproportionately designed for the young and then surprises vendors (see Kindle, see iPad) when it is used by older adults? To me, this element of surprising vendors with adoption trends speaks of inadequate market research and pre-launch analysis. 

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An industry thrives -- the worker, not so much

The sound of one hand clapping.  We're apparently headed into a wave of hiring of home care workers, according to a new Senior Helpers study. Yay, I guess, for the job 'opportunities' for 100,000 additional in-home senior care workers in 2011.  It's a good thing that the article offered up an observation by one franchise owner who "said many of the caregivers employed were middle-aged women who were in the job because they wanted to help, rather than for the money."  Yes, of course.  They can't be in it for the money. Note the Bureau of Labor Statistics about the fastest growing job occupations.  Note the only one with an annual average wage below $20K -- yup, that's the personal care worker, one of the few on the list with only 'on-the-job training'.  One in three have no health insurance, which for a single individual (healthy) under the age of 65 requires an average premium cost of nearly $3000.  And sure enough, the industry is lobbying to be exempt from requirements to insure their workers, also admitting that for those who are currently insured, that the coverage “is probably not up to what will be required.”

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iPads in senior housing -- could be -- with help

Hype alert -- for senior housing residents -- iPads may both amaze and confound.  Caution -- this is not a review, even though I have a brightly lit iPad next to me as I write this text on a PC. I still love my PC because I've become fond its high feedback QWERTY keyboard with its easy-to-find punctuation, mouse access to grabbing text and URLs easily, and other conveniences that have rather grown on me over the years.  I admit to loving the iPad for reading a book, as a home music streamer, watching a movie on a plane, looking at my street from a satellite, and examining news sites.  But this is not about me. This is about the use of an iPad in senior housing settings. For example, check out this video made by a Colorado news station that shows an iPad tutorial for the over-88 senior housing residents -- which I just watched for the third time. 

The Internet Doesn’t Change Everything: Channels Do

This website posts press releases – they tell a partnership story.  Press releases are pervasive – and I read them either because they’re sent to me (good idea) or they show up in my Google Alerts. Posted under ‘Vendor Press Releases’ on the site, they are tagged with terms that match the content so that web and site searches will find them. This site has been operational for over 2 years, so there are plenty – and a chance to think about staying power and persistence of the vendors who have come – and gone – along the way. Looking back to 2009, partnership announcements prevail – agreements to promote a vendor’s product, to make it available for constituents, and to resell.  Many of these agreements are just that, handshakes with press releases – and don’t necessarily result in more products sold through to end customers. But of course they create visibility and credibility via the partnered organization for a vendor that may be small and new.

Living connected lives as we age

Are older adults living offline lives – now? It’s so tough predicting the distant future when the pace of adoption accelerates.  The Boston Globe ‘Ideas’ column on the Future of Old interviewed a plethora of pundits on just how social our online lives might be, so different and remarkable when today’s 30-year-olds turn 70 in 2050. Think how much of a contrast that video game playing, cat video viewing generation would be to today’s old folk – struggling with isolation, boredom and Alzheimer’s (43% of people over the age of 85 show symptoms, cites writer Leon Neifakh.)  

With a reluctance to spend money, will we be Healthy at Home?

Read it and weep -- the conundrum of home health tech. The large (130 pages) Healthy@Home 2.0 report written by Linda Barrett released on Friday by AARP shows several dimensions of market self-delusion, not the least of which is the perspective of the 940 seniors age 65+. Although they have no doubt seen the world around them go from the happy-go-lucky period of the 2007 survey to a not-so-great world in 2010, what they want is for things to 'stay the same', relying on "a lot of luck", a "good attitude" and "hope". Amazingly, most say they do not need to make any changes to their home within the next 5 years. They're mostly in good shape -- but 27% of them have limits on physical activities, 32% have low vision or hearing impairment, and nearly 1 out of 5 reported their health as fair or poor. Meanwhile fewer than 20% are using any home safety technologies, including an alarm system (!); and fewer than 10% use any personal health and wellness technologies mentioned in the survey. These include medication dispensing (described to responders as an electronic pill box), medication management (communicates information to a provider), or a home-based transmitting self-care device for blood pressure readings or diabetes results.

Aging in America – Caring Professionals, Hopeful Vendors, Too Little Adoption

If it’s a Thursday, April 28, I must be -- Aging in AmericaWhere are the restrooms? With so much travel these days, it’s easy to get disoriented – have I seen this exhibit floor before and which one of my seven PowerPoint slide decks is labeled Thursday at 2:30 pm? From talking to attendees and later reading AARP and Linda Barrett’s comprehensive and updated Healthy @ Home 2.0 -- it looks like as we are becoming older, we are more tech-aware (and apparently saturated with PCs), but still not galvanized into caregiver tech adoption urgency. It also seems to me that industry professionals hear about technology products and see more potential for introduction to their parents than for their elderly constituents.  Oh, and by the way, they are waiting for integrators to bundle them into well-tested packages, short lists and solutions for family and professional caregivers.

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