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Why don't large vendors invest more in technology for seniors?

This is a rant. I am tired of youth-oriented tech vendors with their back-to-school laptops.  I am tired of how clumsy and non-intuitive most computing technologies are -- especially home networks. I am convinced that vendors like Apple, Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel, and Microsoft must be populated with thirty-somethings who design products for themselves and their inner geek. (Gee, why have a device that can be plugged in and just works? Instead, why don't we just add these 14 configuration steps?). So it has always been thus and so perhaps will always be. But with so many boomers who insist on staying put in their homes and who have more disposable income (even accounting for the recession assault on their portfolios) why not make and market home technology for them?

People will age longer at home, but it won't be pretty. This year we know according to an AARP public policy study, that 89% of people of age 50+ want to stay in their own homes. MetLife Mature Market Institute found the same thing. News article after article has confirmed that aging in place is a trend that is happening, maybe fueled by a real estate slump. Remodeling of Peter Pan houses is taking off.  Meanwhile, January 1, 2011, the first wave of baby boomers turns 65. Despite our never-get-old mentality (60 is the new 40, 80 is the new 60, etc), when you're not 64 anymore, you slip into a new and not entirely problem-free life stage.

The post boomer demographic is becoming senior. That's the age in which the majority will have 2 chronic conditions -- perhaps arthritis, diabetes or heightened risk of heart disease. It's the demographic in which risk of Alzheimer's disease spikes (1 in 8 are likely to acquire, putting the total for baby boomers who suffer from it or a related dementia at 10 million, or twice the current population with Alzheimer's of 5.2 million). It's likely that 4.3 million of us (you) will have severe vision impairment. Bad knees, weak hips, poor balance, shaky memory, and fading eyesight.

What technology you need.  Let's just make a few assumptions. Just to chat with your dispersed family members, never mind research your looming medical issues on the Internet, you need broadband, a home network, a reasonably lightweight laptop, a printer, maybe a touch screen, maybe a built in camera, a decent cell phone with built-in GPS, a low-cost but high function home security system that watches out for your environment, and a good long-distance dialing plan. You are quite willing to plug everything in and turn it on, or maybe hire someone to show up and do it. As you become somewhat frailer, you want a small amount of home automation that doesn't require an engineer to manage -- perhaps automatic temperature controls (you're in, heat's on, along with the lights; please reverse this when you're out.) Eventually you and your family want home monitoring with integrated web camera, motion and fall detection, plus extended PERS (beyond 500 feet).

How about some help from your favorite vendors? Unfortunately, once you own all of the above, from that point on, if it's computer-related, it's all about fear and loathing of this ever-more-frustrating junk-to-be. From the 'Send error report to Microsoft' to the gotta-hire-a-geek-just-to-print. The silence is deafening from large US-based vendors on how to tackle this pending incompatibility between what we want and how we live with our gear. The super successful Cisco offers only networking products that confound both novice and technical people in their homes. Microsoft is committed to health care, but it's Guide for Aging Computer Users hasn't been updated in a year and a half -- and there is no other public clue that the company cares about its aging-in-place customers. Meanwhile, Intel cares about aging enough to fund virtual boatloads of research -- but actual product development into the market -- basically zero. Silence from HP and Dell.  Maybe that's because only 25% of Windows-based laptop purchasers are over age 50? But 25% is still quite a few laptops, more than 5 million, for example, in 2007 alone).

And a word about Apple. So we know that Apple's personal computer marketshare has grown to exceed 10%.  And surprisingly, 46% of its buyers are 55 and older (which could possibly be because it's perceived to be easy to use...but I digress.) Yet Apple's marketing. Now there's a contrast.  Baby boomers? Seniors? Aging? Not on your stylish pink MacBook life. How silly is it to ignore nearly half of your buyers and design for appeal to teenagers? Do they think that their 55+ customers just want to look cool? Maybe if they acknowledged the AARP demographic, they could grab another 10% share.

Big vendors should invest in small vendors. This blog is filled with numerous mentions of vendors who offer all of the pieces and parts that we'll need to age in our own homes. But they're mostly small. With an infusion of cash (not research... cash!) from the large vendors (like Cisco, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Intel, Apple) -- the small vendors could be intentionally included as members of the large vendor's 'ecosystem' (to quote Microsoft). One reason Microsoft invests in HealthVault is because its leaders acknowledge the health-related implications of an aging population. Ditto with Intel (Health Guide) and Cisco (Health Presence). But we're not going to be sick all of the time! We're just going to try to live in our homes as connected to others as we can be. Maybe we just need a few investments in the innovations of small startups to ensure that we can.



Laurie -

Excellent post. I have another question as I try to connect some older relatives to the grid: What kind of online training resources exist for seniors?

I'm thinking about the basic stuff - how to navigate their computers or use email; what is IM and how to use it; loading and managing pictures, etc.

Are there any good web resources you'd point me to? Are there any vendors - small or large - that are offering these kind of services?


Here are four online training programs to check out (no endorsement, just suggestions):

1) SeniorNet.com

2) Computer School for Seniors (http://www.cs4seniors.com/)

3) Senior Tech Online


4) Seniors Online (California source)



You couldn't be more right about all this research being done and no call to action from Intel or HP and more. This article hits the nail on the head.

I just wanted to let others know that if they want to continue to age in place, or help their mom or dad live independantly, another more affordable option is RememberItNow!

RememberItNow! is an online health service that features text-message reminders, a private care community, and more to help take control of your health or your loved one's.

Developed by our founder Pam Swingley to help her manage his Glaucoma treatments, medications and retain his independence; it addresses a need many face—remembering to take medication, and taking it correctly.

It erases confusion with families coordinating care. Users can login and leave journal entries in the Caregiver journal, review the Health Stats, and much more. This is a great benefit to babyboomer families trying to take care of their parents.

It also is more affordable with plans at $19-$23/month vs assisted living or nursing homes which can be $40,000-$60,000 a year!

Watch our story here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJXYaT9KseA Or visit us at www.RememberItnow.com


Another great blog. Thank you for sharing.

Warm Regards,

Hi Laurie,

Good point! I'd also like to get your thoughts on technology for caregivers. What types of technology can they utilize to help them manage their older loved ones more effectively? It would seem that this group (the sandwich generation) is more comfortable using technology but are there services and products that you think really help them?


Laurie: I couldn't agree more with everything you said. I've been saying the same things since 1997 so I guess you're preaching to the choir.

Here is the main reason the "Big Boys" -- whether they are tech, media, or consumer product companies -- don't "get" the senior market. It's not sexy.

Yes, seniors have all the time in the world and the lion's share of disposable income, but -- like you said -- the product developers are 20 somethings and don't understand the value or size of this market they are ignoring.

It's been a tough road trying to trailblaze in this space and educate the companies you mention. Let's keep at it though, and eventually maybe we'll punch through.

The high tech manufacturers, software writers and both wired and wireless communications deliverers view us as a drag. Young people apparently will just keep spending and spending and spending (really, charging) endlessly on various communications devices while we who managed to get pretty far in life without all those bells and whistles, are usually content to stay with a good working instrument - no matter what the color of the day is!

Just the monthly charges are intimidating enough. Seniors won't be getting COLA's this year and the same probably applies to the disabled but the costs of all these ever changing gizmos seem to trend upward by making what we have today obsolete tomorrow.

The economy is on the verge of what feels like a depression and if that unfortunately turns out to be true, all of the companies pushing this glitter and glitz most of us don't need will eventually have to rethink their marketing. Broadband costs are trending way down to the vendors who then turn around and charge the public MORE?!?

And healthcare costs may set us back to the two cups and a string method if we aren't careful. Older people just do not have disposable income and all the CHANGE seems to be geared toward taking away whatever we have saved. All the new legislation with goodies will only provide them for people close to but above the poverty level. It's there in the small print in almost every bill that is being churned out and will leave many seniors in situations where the technology that would help us will in effect be denied us. We are becoming "burdens" on society which is a dangerous place to be.


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