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Market Overview for Technology for Aging in Place

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Five technologies to help care for older adults – September, 2016

Behold more startup efforts to help with care.  You must admire this. The energy and entrepreneurial enthusiasm driving new entrants is astounding. And if at first, an idea does not take hold, note the founder of that one may appear in a new variant. You know that doctors can now bill for end-of-life conversations. And no surprise, a tool emerges that helps doctors with these conversations. One adds to the lengthy nationwide list of 'telephone reassurance' service providers. And there is even a directory. The offerings below are selected from recent press releases, startup finalists, and conversations. Note that the alphabetically-listed material is all drawn from the content provided by the companies:

Five tips for startups and enterprises with 2016-2017 offerings

It’s timely – we are entering the competition/event season.  School has started and so has the search for innovation.  To name a few: Stanford has launched a design competition for Innovating Aging in Place. And the day approaches for the Aging 2.0 Global Search Finalists to present. Meanwhile the CTA (Consumer Technology Association) Foundation launched its video contest for startups who want booth space at CES; and the Louisville Innovation Summit announced its pitch finalists. And those are just those in the older adult market segment, not even counting what may be initiated by LeadingAge or Argentum in senior housing or the plethora of upcoming health-related innovation conferences.

Five hearing tech announcements that could benefit older adults

Hearing technology advances -- the hearing aid industry considers changing. It’s a positive when you see disruption of industries that have too tight a lock on the consumer, whether it is in categories of health insurance, telecom carriers or hearing aids.  You spend time with people everywhere you go – those with significant hearing loss but no hearing aids; they have hearing aids, but hate to wear them.  According to a recent NY Times article, two-thirds of adults over 70 have hearing loss that warrants hearing aids, but only 15-30% of those wear them – and at $5000 a pair, no wonder. In recent years, personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) that are not classified as hearing aids and thus do not require the audiologist role, though the FDA may change that. Just asking, if the device is called a ‘Wearable’, does Silicon Valley find it more worthy of funding? But anyway. In July, Consumer Reports published an explanatory guide that should be required reading for organizations that serve older adults. It would seem to be the wild west of innovation.  Here is a sampling of five recent product announcements:

The Internet and loneliness among older adults

Research about loneliness among older adults matters -- to researchers! RANT ON. This past week produced an oddly-titled article: Researchers confront an epidemic of loneliness – among the elderly, focusing on the connection between loneliness and poor health and cognitive decline. This was not 'The New Old Age' -- quite  the contrary. The article described how much more advanced Britain is than the US in "addressing the problem of loneliness as it relates to health." Okay, okay. Why not attempt to address loneliness among seniors? So in Britain, consider this call-in number, The Silver Line, started by a 73-year-old woman, herself admittedly lonely following the death of her husband. 

Could Amazon's Echo and Alexa be useful for in-home care?

Tech-enabled home care isn’t really there – yet.  Okay, there are smart phone apps that reveal a caregiver has arrived. There are back-office offerings like CareTree or ClearCare – in a way, these are the ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems for home care agencies.  And then there are the new entrants, scooping up more money, presumably planning to take over the home care universe with…apps. So what is the device of choice for these folks?  A portal or app that can be accessed through a smartphone or perhaps an iPad.   These are big leaps forward from the no-transparency, telephone-only days of yore, true. But what if there was a multi-purpose device in the home that could enhance the quality of life of the care recipient – and also assist with information flow between the participants, including professional caregiver, agency management, family members?  

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Tech-enabled home care -- what is it, what should it be?

Who expects that most seniors will move to assisted living? Not that many. Our clues: # 1) one of the long-time thought leader consultants in senior housing, Ryan Frederick, is now involved in multi-generational housing development.  Or Clue # 2) Occupancy is unchanged in senior housing – still at 89% for the past three years. And don’t you just love the phrase 'inventory has outpaced absorption'? Or the next big challenge for senior housing – serving the middle class? And the profile of the resident in assisted living?  Clue # 3) The typical resident is an 87-year-old woman who remains for an average of 22 months.   Clue # 4) The net worth for folks aged 75+, presumably the feeder group for assisted living, inclusive of home equity, is $155,714.

New university studies are released -- but their value may be lacking

Finding new findings is slowing down in these last days of August.  First we learn that older people are happier. Whew. And we also learn that seniors don’t seem to take to digital health tools, according to a JAMA-published National Health and Aging Trends Study, a project out of the school of public health at Johns Hopkins University. “Notably, the seniors in the NHATS were willing to get on a computer to respond to this annual, in-home, computer-assisted, longitudinal nationally representative survey of community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries 65 years and older.” Okay – hence it must be valid.  Says study author Dr. Levine: "Little is known about how this population actually uses technology." Well, actually quite a bit is known -- and published during the study years of 2011 – 2014.  For one, consider the 2011 Linkage survey of individuals age 65-100.  Then there are the numerous surveys from Pew, for example, this one from 2014 on older adults and technology adoption.  Or from Nielsen.  

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PACE accelerates into dubious for-profit nursing home avoidance

Nursing home avoidance – the home care wave fits the profile.  So we know that tech-enabled home care has received several infusions of cash lately.  Whether this is an anomaly -- once new-age firms realize that home care consists of difficult and backbreaking labor – or signals a trend, remains to be seen.  The apparent bloom of the home care business opportunity appears to be the inverse of the business gloom in senior housing, as noted in these Chapter 11 filings. These businesses are failing at the same time as nursing home bed capacity is anticipated to become constrained.   As AARP has endlessly repeated, 90% of older adults want to remain in their own homes. Or maybe it is 87%.  But regardless of intent, most will stay because they can’t afford anything else.  

Refunds for international buyers of Jibo Robot -- the peril of hype

See a product swamped by global media hype miss expectations.  Refunds for international backers of Jibo. In December, 2015, cute ‘social’ robot Jibo “received $16 million from Asian VCs to enable it to speak and sell in Japan and China.” And that was just a portion of the total of $52 million raised, the first chunk on IndieGogo found 5,554 supporters raising $2.3 million.  But what just happened should not be a surprise. Why? Because “it won’t function up to our standards in your country… and will create more issues with Jibo’s ability to understand accented English than we view as acceptable.” Why all this money for a poorly defined, loosely described $500 table-top and presumably robotic companion beloved in the media?  Why indeed, as the GeekWire article rightly observes, Amazon Echo began selling at the same time, with many of the original Jibo hyped features and at a lower price point.

Five Caregiving apps – some people use them, but what are they?

In June, Parks Associates observed low utilization of caregiver apps.  Their research published at the time showed "27% of current caregivers and 41% of future caregivers are very interested in a connected health app featuring medication lists with reminder functions."  Parsing that a bit, caregivers today are not big users of apps to help them with caregiving, but perhaps today’s millennials (future caregivers) will be more interested.  The graphic associated with the press release reaffirmed any doubts about the viability of the PERS industry -- topping the chart -- panic button, tracking and fall detection. Okay – so if current caregivers were to use apps more productively, what might they use? And will the most likely use end up with families who have engaged home care workers?  These imponderables aside, the information from the five noted here was drawn from the websites or public press material:

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