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2015: From Niche to Norm -- Technology for Aging in Place

What is the line between a distinct product market and tech customization?  In 2009 when the original Market Overview was published, the search began to identify the small group of entrepreneurs focused on serving seniors – from the AirGuru SV1 Video Phone and Big Screen Live all the way to WellAware and Wellcore.  Why note such a market, you might ask? All of those companies and many others had the heart and focus to try to craft something usable by and for an older adult. In many cases these were inventions compensating for a gap in care and oversight, but most often filling a gap in internet access and/or usability of devices and software.

And the search is still on. Both heart and innovator enthusiasm have skyrocketed, as you will see by a recent market sizing and also with investor interest in the growing aging demographic numbers.  Arguably the most significant device invention for seniors was the introduction of the iPad in 2010 -- which cast a pall on the utility of PCs. Now that very same iPad seems impossibly heavy and awkward. While researching the 36 technology additional entrants into the 2015 Market Overview, it appears that a corner has turned. As this market opportunity has become interesting to investors and inventors, innovators recognize that customization (think Easy Mode), re-purposing, and training on broadly available technologies may be as useful as creating a brand new device from scratch.

What happened along the path from 2009 to today? Let us count the ways. Foremost – costs jumped for health care and prescription drugs. The older population aged 65+ ballooned from 39.6 million to 47.9 million projected for 2015. Life expectancy averages moved from the early 80’s up to 88.8 for women. As of 2013, nearly half of women aged 75+ lived alone. While Internet access was expanded in some geographic areas, adoption has not kept pace with the rate of change in society. Physical locations like banks, Social Security offices and pay phones have disappeared. Wearable technology innovation investment has skyrocketed, particularly in fitness/activity tracking and disease/wellness monitoring – yielding a nearly unlimited variety of fitness and health-related devices that are relatively inexpensive compared to the $1200 Intel Health Guide so-called portable telehealth unit of 2008.

Moving from niche market to the way things should work. In January, 2011, the first baby boomers began turning 65. Surprise -- marketers noticed. One day you look around a pharmacy like CVS and the store has better lighting and more chairs. Then Amazon launches a website that leads with adult diapers. Oops. Make that Active & Healthy Living.  AARP introduced the RealPad in 2014, arguably on the late side, as consumer tablets go and have gone. The organization's Health Innovation@50+ team has estimated the opportunity for 100 million people aged 50+ to be $2.7 trillion and dubbed the related businesses as the Longevity Network. As the pace of tech change inevitably accelerates, the older population will need ever more training on how to use their tablets and smartphones -- just as much as they (still) need affordable broadband access. And as bank branches close, paper checks disappear, the movie theaters empty in favor of Netflix, and visits with doctors move online, that training on new technology needs to be both pervasive and -- let's hope -- persuasive.