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September 2011

When markets don't intersect - xHealth and tech for aging

 The xHealths prefer to ignore the elephant in the room.  Every day I am treated to a plethora of updates (remember my 24 LinkedIn Groups) about this conference and that event for Health 451.0, Connected YouKnowWhat, Wireless WhatsUp, and Mobile Name-that-disease. The very word ‘health’ connotes opportunity (avoid 30-day hospital readmissions!), visions of reimbursement, and smiling clinicians on the far side of webcams.  After all, shouldn’t the xHealths target employer-funded health insurance programs, monitoring ailments among employees and their kids’ childhood diseases? And doesn’t the ‘m’ in mHealth mean mobile, mean smart phone, always-on, on-the-go and on-the-run?  Tweet your stats to your friends and get a friendly e-mail from your doctor’s iPad.

Hats off to investors with X-ray vision

Some consultants and investors make me grumpy.  In my line of work I speak with junior members of giant consulting firms and newly minted researchers within the back offices of VCs. When I talk to these young folk, I cringe in the face of ignorance about aging, never mind about the markets they are studying. Recently one of these investors opined this gem: "I like to invest in areas where there is demonstrated demand." Let’s mull that over, I thought. But don’t you own a number of technologies that a few years ago had zero customer demand?” Well, yes, that’s true, he admitted and we silently contemplated tablets and smart phones, portable GPS devices, and iPods, where consumers gravitated toward an invention they never knew they needed. Did anyone actually demand telepresence, location-based restaurant meet-ups, Skype video conferences, smart bandages or interactive TV?  For that matter, in the 1980’s did anyone conceive of an assisted living industry, telehealth nurses, or self-checkout in a store?

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Is telehealth a market or a feature?

Analyst firms have re-discovered telehealth – and it’s big, big, big.  So trumpets Information Week’s coverage of a new study from market researcher InMedica. They size the global market at $6.28 billion by 2020, up from its current cited size of shipments at $163 million in 2010.  This must mean that we have a tipping point of uptake within vendor marketer lines of sight. And no wonder, so many other markets driven by seized-up consumer spending are tepid or shrinking. If you believe this forecast, certainly it’s about time for a market that has languished for years, not to say decades, despite the Veteran Administration validation and rollout, and numerous reports that verified effectiveness at keeping patients out of the hospital. Hmm, though, maybe the tipping point is sooner.  BCC Research, another analyst group already valued the ‘telehome’ subset of telemedicine at $2.9 billion in 2010, rising to $7.9 billion by 2015.

While communities attempt age friendliness, US telehealth fiddles on

Who’s WHO and age-friendly communities.  A few years ago, the World Health Organization announced that it was forming a global network of age-friendly cities (see linked checklist of criteria). In the US, those include Portland, Oregon  and New York City and worldwide they include Brussels, Canberra, Geneva, Nice and many others. The list also includes Louth County in Ireland – where I spoke this past week at an event sponsored by CASALA – a partnership that includes the Dundalk Institute of Technology. CASALA, along with the Institute's Netwell Centre and government and health service providers, research and actively promote the use of technologies that can improve the quality of life of older adults in the region.

Hearing loss, aging and technology

My neighbor can't hear me.  I live near a 67-year-old man who likes to talk, but has difficulty hearing the response, which usually has to be repeated before he gets it unless he is sitting close and looking you straight in the eye. We've known him for quite a few years and although his hearing seems worse, he doesn't wear a hearing aid. It isn't because of money -- since he still works at a good job, can afford a new car and just bought a boat.

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On this day, let's remember the technology of connections

You'd think by now that some type of instant messaging would have 100% adoption.  Recently the Atlantic published a long article on the growing adoption of social media by the oldest adults, noting an upcoming study about Internet use from the University of Alabama which found a "30 percent decrease in depressive symptoms among older adults who used it regularly."  The Atlantic's article was particularly focused on the use of social media (like Facebook) for older adults who are unable to get out and about regularly. The article was particularly excited about the rapid growth in online use among the 74-plus population up to 30% as detailed in Pew Research's Generations 2010. Unfortunately, in more recent Pew Research studies (August 2011) -- only 42% of the 65+ population, according to Pew, go online at all. And of those who do, only 33% are social networking users.

What if dementia is not destiny for the oldest old?

Something different -- a positive study of aging and cognitive decline.  Last week in the midst of worse and most worse economic news, USA Today published the results of a decade-long study through Duke, Harvard and others that tracked 1049 older adults age aged 56-102 who at the beginning of the study showed no signs of dementia.  At the end of the study, two-thirds of the participants showed at most only “slow cognitive decline,” not the level of decline typically associated with requiring assistance or medical care. Why is this interesting? Remember the often-quoted statistic that nearly 50% of seniors aged 85+ suffer from Alzheimer’s? This study undermines that estimate and therefore the domino effect of the assumptions that are derived from it.

Aging in Place Technology Watch August 2011 Newsletter

Non-Labor day – or is it?  We need some new ideas for how to continue to earn money past the age of 50 – the old ways aren’t working. The American economy added a net number of zero jobs in August. That is impressive as a net number, given that home care and home health care are the fastest growing job segments today. Fear about the future is driving folks to continue to work past their ‘expected’ retirement age. And people are living longer – a prospect that certainly makes ‘planning’ for the future a daunting experience in a good economy.  People are putting their money under the mattress, that is, if they still have some.  Yet every day I get a press release from an entrepreneur, a startup company that wants me to know that they are launching and targeting boomers and seniors. Are these startups in the net number of ‘zero jobs’ in August?  Are the traditional ways of counting workers, work, and non-farm payroll reflective of the continued ingenuity and idea creation that seems (from my vantage point) to be pervasive, targeting services and capabilities for older adults? Also, please note that the WSJ article about those who have lost jobs -- and note (which the WSJ did not notice) the jobs that several have found in the senior-related areas.