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Who will buy all the useful technology for seniors -- and by what date?

Senior housing organizations want to accelerate development and adoption. Reading an interview with Majd Alwan, SVP and Executive Director of Leading Age’s CAST group, you would believe that we are on the cusp of widespread adoption of technology for older adults in the senior housing: Says Majd: "CAST brings developers—big ones like Phillips and Intel-GE Care Innovations, all the way to small start-ups—together with forward thinking and pioneering service providers who understand the value of technology and are exploring technology-enabled care models and implementing them in their communities, and researchers."

Grant money is moving – to accelerate development and adoption. As I already wrote, Link-age is launching a $20 million ‘gray’ fund to accelerate the ‘creation of products and services.’  CMS just completed a massive initiative to award grants in Health Care Innovation. This week the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA --- yup, they runs CES) Foundation announced its first grant ever -- to "bring Self Help's Virtual Senior Center project to more locations, eventually bringing it to nationwide scale."

Living laboratories are being launched to accelerate development and adoption. As previously noted, Georgia Tech, U of Missouri, MIT, and others are creating/building living laboratories that will help in accelerating development and adoption of technology to help older adults.  And multiple other programs are regularly conducting research on the efficacy of technology such as Internet use on issues like social isolation and depression in the old.

But what is the target date for technology adoption? Over the past four years, numerous initiatives, not unlike the current wave, were launched and abandoned and new ones are underway.  But these statements are still true: end-user technology for seniors such as sensor-based monitoring or communication-engagement – these are still under-adopted in senior housing -- see ALFA’s Best of the Best awards -- home care, and generally not sold in retail settings.   How do I know this? From the vendors themselves who are still rooted in pilots, small deployments, RFPs, and the category of ‘emerging’. Meanwhile, healthcare, Alzheimer’s care, and deployment of electronic medical records have grabbed budget and attention in senior housing – and home care organizations are just starting to consider evaluation and future deployment.

Who will buy and what is preventing broad-based adoption now?  I am reminded of the plaintive song in Oliver, Who Will Buy?  But we’re not talking about sweet red roses, we are talking tech for the 5 million seniors over the age of 85 who are likely NOT in the above pilots.  We are talking about Pew’s survey showing that 47% of those aged 65+ are not online, 66% of seniors age 75+ are not online, and 79% of those age 75+ do not have broadband in the home, a really good reason for not being online. What do you bet that those who could most benefit from the efforts to accelerate development and adoption have no idea that this work is underway and no good way to find out?  If the broadband, Internet adoption numbers of the older age groups were higher, perhaps user interest, willingness to buy, and barriers to adoption would be an obvious short list that vendors and their champions could easily overcome. So where is the overarching program to pull all of this great work together into a single national strategy, close the gaps in access, and really accelerate adoption of useful tech for a population that could benefit?


Reading your post impressed up on me we are dealing with different customer segments that require different approaches. A residential senior care provider and the senior consumer/child of a senior require very different approaches. Possibly a topic for future blog posts?

Let me put this out there for readers to respond regarding selling to seniors/consumers. The path to purchase for senior services is not like purchasing a retail product such as a television. It is often a long path for families and characterized with crisis episodes that trigger action. Once the crisis is addressed are these consumers now influenced on care solutions by whomever is solving the "point of pain" at the current time (i.e. residential provider/home care)? What biases are now introduced regarding emerging solutions? Who is the customer now? Who is conduit for solutions to the target customer? This all leads back to your question of who and when will they buy. Looking forward to responses.

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The Telikin computer, as one example, was an emerging product 1.5 years ago and is now sold directly to seniors through an online catalog.





Laurie let me add to my comment above. Selling products where the individual struggles with multiple ADLs is where my comments were directed. So independent living solutions would not be a likely purchase for these individuals.

Very thoughtful comments. I am in the process of writing an e-manual on Communicating with Family Decisions-Makers in Home Health, Hospice and Private Duty Care. Obviously I am talking about different generations that require different approaches by health care personnel.

If others have thoughts on the intergenerational connections, I'd like to hear them.

BTW -- the current monthly issue of www.retirementhomes.com has my column, Four Tips for 'Right Brain' Selling, if you are interested.

Great prompt as always from you.
Product creators will likely always have best traction selling to providers that have already in place connectivity to older adults (that there is a huge percentage of older adults not connected to any provider is a whole other article). I don't know of any solution creator that would argue against the idea that the most efficient way to their solution use would be to have providers promote its use (and possible sale) to those they serve. What needs to happen for mass product success is that providers and product producers need to align with the same outcome goals. As long as housing is the primary financial business model in our industry (or unit for fee if you want to include care)then solutions that focus on efficient health management likely will not find long term traction on the conference room table of CEO's and board members (purchasers).
As soon as health becomes the major model structure in our industry we will all see great adoption of making the BEST solutions available to those we serve. i.e sustainable telehealth beyond grants or Medicaid

From my vantage point of dealing with my customers who are usually the children of people in the 80s and 90s, I can see that it is the adult children that will have to handle the new technologies for the aged. Many people in their 80s and 90s can't understand (or don't want to learn) how to use a more modern wireless phone, let alone anything more advanced. The adult children are looking for products their elderly parents can understand how to use, even after the adult children do the programming for them.

If the newer technologies aren't extremely simple and easy to use for the elderly, they won't catch on. My suggestion would be for products that can be remotely programmed, even have the ability to remotely trouble shoot in order for these products to be useful for the elderly.

In my opinion most have failed as they have put too much back on the senior who has no desire to use the internet or technology. Few over 75 want a “Facebook” experience or their privacy scrutinized. Put the actionable items back on the non-paid caregiver.

Products are too complex, targeted at payments through government programs or Senior housing and just have too many confusing features. More focus on a few key valued features, sold through a channel people (read non paid caregivers) want to buy through and at a realistic price point and the market will happen.