Market Overview for Technology for Aging in Place

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Chronological age, exercise and wearable fitness tech for older adults

Chronological age has no impact on health and well-being – per this study.  Apparently, blood pressure and cholesterol readings aren’t the whole story.  What matters more are sensory function, mental health, mobility and health behaviors. This is according to a summary of an abstract of research at the University of Chicago.  But it re-enforces other research about the correlation between exercise and warding off dementia.  And for those who never got around to exercise but have a fear of falling in their 80s and beyond, exercise like Tai Chi can restore balance in an 85-year-old, building confidence and reduce fall risk and fear of falling.


Exercise motivation – what gets older adults moving?  As the Tai Chi photograph shows, group exercise provides feedback and makes it fun for the participants.  SilverSneakers, an exercise program that originated in Arizona in 1992, morphed through multiple company shapes and sizes, and now is part of Healthways, which makes it available via Medicare insurance programs and fitness centers.  Okay, that was convoluted – but the net result is that Medicare Advantage plans like Humana and United Healthcare offer free gym memberships through their SilverSneakers partnerships – enabling and encouraging seniors to come to the gym, participate in social group classes, typically doing some exercise, including water aerobics classes in the pool at their level of comfort and widely variable level of fitness.


Exercise tech – what keeps older adults moving? Fitness wearables are morphing and some older adults like them. Abandonment rate is high, but a study of usability for older adults was a reality check if device designers actually cared about older adults – so far, not so much (one in five, according to this chart).  With the feverish pace of new device introduction, maybe one of these will be appealing to a large market.  Is it the goal of 10,000 steps that would keep people wearing a tracker?  Seems like once the goal is met, boredom sets in (with the tracker, not the steps). Lots of invention around sleep, but do older adults care if they’re not part of a sleep study? Wouldn't it make more sense to use trackers to measure gait changes as indicator of frailty?


Let’s see some combinations that target older adults in next gadget wave. Why, you may ask? Because Medicare, which spent $597 billion or so in 2014, along with the insurance plans and health delivery systems may provide incentives to use these devices. By the time you invent it, they have might seen proof about the way tech can encourage and help sustain exercise that keeps people active and healthy.  Because older adults may want to feel like they’re winning a real competition which can improve their energy and mobility – in the class, in the pool (hint, waterproof!), outside, on the pickle ball court or wherever. So the sellers of healthiness (insurers and providers) want better outcomes – and the insured target consumers can work on their own fitness -- with free devices, or even, gasp, actual payment for device use. With both tech and incentives that are effective – isn’t that enough synergy to motivate some creativity in the device market?   

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