Market Overview for Technology for Aging in Place

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From age-specific and age-unaware toward age-friendly design

The lens used to view age sees a different picture. Population segments can be broad. Baby boomers, for example, now span aged 51 to 70, and people in the youngest segment may not feel they have anything in common with the oldest. On the one hand, a 70 year old with a disability may fit directly into the awkward dual goals of the CTA Foundation: "It was established with the mission to link seniors and people with disabilities with technologies to enhance their lives." In that case, an Age Suit may help (young) marketers better understand physical limitations. On the other hand, the mission of AARP is broad, "which enhances the quality of life for all as we age. We champion positive social change and deliver value through advocacy, information, and service." Grantmakers in Aging has an audacious goal: "by 2019 – for 20% of all philanthropy to go to aging."

Consider 'older' adults or do more thoughtful design.  Who are they anyway? The age suit concept always gets negative feedback from older adults -- who feel insulted by it. But it may make sense to require it in courses taken by young would-be-product marketers. Maybe the icons or buttons are just too small on that smartphone app or wearable fitness device. Or maybe the point of today’s experimentation with self-driving cars will be sensors that will benefit older drivers of any car.  And how about city planners, forced to try it on, would grasp the many age-unfriendly implications from it. Maybe the lights do change too quickly for those with walkers or wheelchairs -- at this street crossing or at all street crossings.

Great consumer product design-for-all matters, but eludes.  What do consumers need? Self-installing, out of the box, ready-to-run, optional connections with securely managed data, user-friendly wearables, adequate testing (see not-so-smart home that could freeze the elderly). These requirements seem barely thought through by designers of many new products, including mobile apps designed to manage our health.  In fact, if there was an overriding design requirement among consumer product developers today, it appears to be design-for-press-coverage.  Which means release it too early, be forced to admit there are problems (see Fitbit’s heart-rate lawsuit) and backpedal.

Age-friendliness is a product concept, not just for cities. As populations age almost everywhere, the Age Friendly City movement expands slowly – possibly, as John Feather notes, due to the word ‘age’ in its mission. When you read the Checklist to be an Age-friendly City, the list looks to be People-friendly, of any age, or more specifically, non-discriminatory based on age. This is so true for products and services -- read Page 3 guidance. "Older people are regularly consulted by public, voluntary and commercial services on how to serve them better. Services and products to suit varying needs and preferences are provided by public and commercial services. Service staff are courteous and helpful." Who would object to these as criteria for all products (technology included) entering the all-ages marketplace?

Also, please join me in an upcoming CDW Tech-Senior Living Webinar on January 27, 2:00 - 3:00 pm ET, 1:00 - 2:00 CT.  


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