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Smartphones and caregiving – seize the opportunity to be useful

Not trading in your phone – only your carrier knows for sure.  What if the phone doesn’t break – and you’re going to have to pay real money for a new one? Even Apple can’t crack the code on that, since three-fourths of iPhones in 2015 were bought from carriers; its most recent growth stalled, but thankfully, in the midst of that slumping iPhone sales growth, maybe India will love the smaller phone.  But does Apple they know that as of 2010 there were 524 million people aged 65+ in the world?  Of course, Apple does not market to specific age segments, regardless of how much seniors may love the iPad. So that smartphone market will remain untapped – and at this point, older seniors are not convinced about the device’s utility.  Who wants their market?  Doro, GreatCall, Clarity, and now Punkt offers a simple phone that could work for seniors.

In the US, just 27% of the 45.3 million people 65+ have smartphones.  So that’s around 12 million owners and more than 30 million non-owners. Tech writers like to mull over 100 million iPhones sold as market saturation, so maybe that other 30 million would just be an Apple (or Samsung) rounding error. Yet Apple’s push into India, China with a smaller, cheaper iPhone, were tactics to cope with what appears to be somewhat drooping iPhone sales – the gadget that funds the company. Not content to tap into these more than 30 million non-owners in the US, Apple made a watch, so that it can sell more gadgets to its iPhone owners. That has not gone particularly well. What if the 70 million baby boomers won’t want it either?

So maybe the smartphone could become more helpful to caregivers and seniors.  Smartphones are really useful, maybe essential, for those willing to take on the just-right configuration learning curve. Text, camera, step counting, directions, music, media consumption, book reading, weather, hotel check-in – oh, and that’s just my phone. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.  What about caregiving apps?  Parks just published a press release indicating usage of caregiving apps is relatively low among those that might benefit most. But were they asked about apps for diabetics? Or apps that sync with a portable heart monitor?  Apps to track medication dosages? Were they asked the same questions as in the Pew Family Caregivers are Wired for Health’?  That was in 2013 – at this point, they’re probably more wired.

Relevance matters. You need to find a location – having a phone-based map is relevant.  You need to look up a medication side effect, locate a rolling walker, or find the nearest drugstore when you’re on vacation. The answers are, by definition, relevant. Creating a relevance-based user interface on a smartphone – that would be intriguing.  Why not ask a few not overly-personal but useful profile questions? Either about the phone owner or whether the owner is a caregiver to a family member, including long-distance?  “Would you like to have health-related information on this phone?  If so, what type (pick from a few categories)?  And Voilà! Relevance for the caregiver (who could be 65+) or relevance for an older adult new to smartphones.  You know, the 73% of the 65+ who apparently don’t have one.  


The next generation of medical wearables will give smartphones and connected peripherals (watch) much greater utility. Integrated biosensors in a wearable form will connect data harvest thru the phone to the cloud, securely and automatically. Refined sensor forms will soon turn the smart watch into an integrated vital signs monitor moving data to the wearers secure personal health record and optionally shared with family, caregivers and providers. All this will happen this year.

Laurie, you hit on one item brought up by the Dean of the Erickson School at an Aging 2.0 meeting a few weeks ago.  The other issue is affordability.  I do no own a Smartphone and reflect you demographic.  There are 2 issues for me and the major one is What will it do for me that I should shell out big bucks to buy a Smarphone and then pay a monthly fee?  

Laurie Orlov nails it again. Highly recommend this if you're into caregiving or home care. Or phones." Smartphones and caregiving – seize the opportunity to be useful.

This is a timely article as smart phones are becoming a wonderful connection point to caregivers, for instance. One company, Honor, hires non-medical home care aids, and connect an elderly or family member to the caregiver via their i-phone app. Finding quality caregivers is a signficant challenge for those elderly who want to remain in their homes. Apps like "honor" have seized the opportunity to be useful. 

 Laurie, thank you for a great post! Despite all problems and resistance seniors use smartphones more and more. The most important is how to make smartphones to be really smart tool for seniors to use and not only more expensive phone.


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