Market Overview for Technology for Aging in Place

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August 2011

Will you get old before you get rich?

Outliving our vision of ourselves.  Just back from the Philips Active Aging Think Tank meeting – in which we echoed the recent frequent Wall Street Journal topic -- living to 100 and beyond. Most of us see ourselves as living to the age (whatever that was) of our parents and grandparents.  Since life expectancy has inched past age 80 for women (in more affluent regions) that may seem sensible. Though we may not want to exit in the same way with the same illness, disability, or dementia that they had. But rationalizing optimists that we are, most likely we ascribe what they had to some lifestyle or behavior in the way they lived their lives -- we will overcome heredity just like we’ve overcome setbacks in the past. 

Consider technologies designed for all, including older adults

Summarizing the Pew Research reports to expose boomer/senior tech adoption trends was quite an eye opener, shining a light on the wide gap between enthusiasm and hype versus the reality of actual boomer/senior buyers and users. For example, in case you were wondering: the tablet, E-reader and smart phone have not taken the 65+ population by storm. But 24% of boomers and 11% of seniors have smart phones today – and I believe that number will double at the next survey. Not exactly a groundswell, nevertheless a clear recognition of benefit.

Is a disaster required to improve focus on older adults?

Will it take a tsunami to create a coherent vision of more successful aging?  It was a disaster. On March 11 of this year, one-third of the 16,000  Japanese tsunami deaths were among the 65+, no doubt embarrassing the citizens and government, who most likely believed they had done a good job of providing for an aging population. An article in The Gerontologist spells out why:  In 1989 the Japanese government developed a vision for long-term care, refined in 2000 with its own slogan "from care by family to care by society” complete with "policy to make home, community-based and institutional services a universal entitlement" based on physical and mental status regardless of family availability and economic status.

Whither the Senior PC?

Were senior PCs reviewed in a column of the Wall Street Journal?  Sort of. Last week, Walt Mossberg wrote about the Telikin PC for Seniors, which was unusual. The tech columnist-turned-Apple enthusiast for the Wall Street Journal periodically writes about other new tech (between Apple product announcements). The Telikin, first launched at the October 2010 AARP Convention, is not exactly new. Bet from reading the Journal, you didn’t know that the average aged WSJ newspaper print subscriber is a 57-year-old baby boomer with an average income of $191K. Also note that half of all baby boomers have one living parent. So tech for seniors should be of interest to baby boomer Journal readers, as well as the affluent NY Times readers, who spend more than $800/year just to read the newspaper in print. Both groups still have parents, both groups can afford to buy them a device currently on the market if they’re willing. But since only 42% of the 65+ population are online, that still leaves a mere 14.8 million people 65+ with online access to nothing.

Are older adults disconnected from technology or marketers?

What are the basic facts about boomer-senior connectivity?  Pew Research and others have been releasing report after report about technology use, but without a summary sheet, marketers might not be able to see the forest for the trees. So here are the basics from the past year of Pew-published surveys – to my knowledge, the only source for this number of categories that include 50+ age cohorts:

Robots for caregiving -- pick up the pace or give it up

Patience, patience, when it comes to robots and elder care.  When it comes to robots to assist with caregiving and the elderly, we want to believe. It was just 2 years ago that Gecko Systems issued a press release saying that they expected "Medicare/Medicaid Payments to Increase Personal Robot Demand." Makers of the CareBot, the company announced its dealer program in June 2010 -- but it is unclear whether the company has moved into commercial release. It was just 3 years ago that the uBOT-5 (UMass Amherst) was offered up as having the potential to provide elder care for aging baby boomers.

Changes in longevity, health, housing must drive bundling of tech solutions

Elder care, housing and aging – the present is not like the past. We are entering the patchwork quilt era of senior housing that reflects lengthening life expectancy and a stretched economy: steady-state occupancy in assisted living at around 2.1 million for- and non-profit, a lot (1000) fewer nursing homes in the last decade. So what else is out there besides caring for an aging parent in your guest room? Quite a bit, actually. There are national networks and websites today that describe NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities); there are Virtual Villages, there is the Maine Approach (building a grass-roots volunteer network shored up with video monitoring), and now there is a national Co-housing Network. Meanwhile, over in China, the land of supposed taking care of aging parents in the home, check out all the senior group homes forming.

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