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Technology for seniors – why have a separate category?

Everything and nothing is in the caregiving innovation frontier. Keep slogging through the enormous market scoped in the AARP Caregiving Innovations Frontiers report. Study the teeny-tiny vendor icons (the only reference to market entrants in the document). Icons can be included for offerings that are not yet in the US market, or were produced at a 3-day hackathon (like Witness) and abandoned, or they're yet not a fit in the 'caregiving' world (like Lyft or Uber), or they're no longer a standalone business, like BeClose, Lively, Isowalk, and DoctorAHA).

Who is that caregiver anyway? Picking through these icon logos, an image forms of the caregiver as a San Francisco smartphone-wielding yuppie -- who may be related to or know a care recipient – but is too busy or too lazy to provide care on the one hand, cook dinner or even do their own wash.  These services may (or may not) still be in business but they are not even tangentially connected to whatever the definition is of caregiving: (another gig-economy entrant, Laundrycare.biz) or targeting the wealthier segment the market (munchery?) Yet the obvious was missing – uh, in a report about caregiving, where is Caring.com in the page about long-term care referral?

But the report offers another image – is this the real message? The AARP 'frontiers' report doesn't highlight technologies within the category of caregiving – implying instead that tech, online services, and however-loosely-related ‘useful’ subjects are all potentially relevant for caregivers who don’t self-identify and thus could be almost anyone. That may become increasingly true for senior technology, which is really about a demographic (44 million people aged 65+ or the 100 million in the Longevity Economy). Their needs and interests cover such a broad spectrum as to be almost as meaningless as this Parks observation: “by 2020, 117 million Americans are expected to need assistance of some kind.”

What if there is no 'senior' technology category? Perhaps 'seniors' who are sometimes 50+, sometimes a nicely vague subset (60, 62, 65? other?) will have technology needs that vary just as widely. A substantial sub-group will want exactly what their adult children and grandchildren are using. Another sub-group will want to make sure hearing or vision assistance are features, voice recognition is feasible, app menus can be customized to a short list, that a call center or family can be reached. Perhaps the product is really, as with GreatCall, a service. Maybe for some, there is a TRAIN ME or Easy Mode button (not buried under Settings) for getting started, placed on the home page, a link to training services, along with an EMERGENCY button. Those features can all be placed or customized on smartphones, tablets, and desktop or laptops right now – no longer requiring specialized hardware software, but instead, benefiting greatly from workshops (online or in person) for refreshers or filling gaps.


I believe that you are becoming a victim of the AARP trend (who is seeking members) in talking about senior-ship starting at 45-50. Talking about senior technology for the 60 or 65 year old is, as you stated, "vague" or in my terms, trendy. Senior technology is not for the empty-nesters or their children -- senior technology is for the older-adult, 70 to 100 year olds who want to stay in charge of their own life in a truly sustainable independent way. This is where technology needs to shine, however, this is most difficult and truly very unchallenged.
Most senior technology is created and marketed to the businesses who are in the senior service or care business. They have created manipulative tools to make their operation more efficient or to lower the liabilities. All these technologies are top-down technologies, intrusions of privacy and not costumer focused. In essence they are tools in keeping the caregivers on the throne of control. It leaves the older adult in the cold as to the participatory process one should have over their service and care plans/desires. Democratization in self-management is not being stimulated or promoted by the current "senior-technology" market.
Most, if not all, technology companies in the senior service/care arena are in the data-control business, the more data they can control to more powerful they become. The technology is only a byproduct in gaining that powerful position, these large multinationals think that, because they control the data, they can now be in the forecasting/predictability business, making money left and right from companies that need that data. All this is well and fine but is this senior technology therefore really focused on the customer's sustainable independence?
So, why do we need a separate category for senior-technology? Well first we need to define "senior" as the Older-Adult, 70 to 100 years of age, if that is established, we will see that the process of aging is for ALL a different process very challenging and very unknown as to applied-technology in supporting the aging-process. This field called "Gerontechnology" -- it is very specific and very un-glamorous. A societal challenge not yet taken on by many.
The medical world has succeeded in adding more years to our physical lives, but technology as a contributor to sustainable independence has not yet touched the areas of really adding quality of life to the years we have gained. This field of Gerontechnology is very special and very specific and can not be added into the pool of general technology that might fit the masses. So, my plea for an even more specialized category, a category for the aging process in which the senior at any age can fully participate in the support process. As the medical world has been able to come down from their ivory tower, so let the technology world not have us move back to another ivory-tower. Democratizing senior technology is still an un-known SPECIALIZED field.   

Mach Schoneveld


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