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In the Technology Lab for Seniors, User Adoption Doesn’t Matter

Seriously – are people aging? Rant on. Yesterday's WSJ article on technology was so Groundhog Day. But it must have shocked the Wall Street Journal reader – 72 million Americans will be 65 and older by 2030!  Well, actually, those are the Wall Street Journal readers: average age of 57 today – who will be 73 by 2030. So we’re not talking about Grandma, sports fans. The excitement? Technologies for a concept called 'Aging in Place.'  Well, maybe it’s not all that new. Scientists at universities – where else – are 'sparked on a quest' to research technologies to help people get help in their homes if they fall, since  it turns out that 1 in 3 seniors age 65 fall each year.  Actually, when it comes to falling and injury like hip fracture, it’s those WSJ readers who will be over the age of 75 by 2030 who will be at risk of falling. They want alternatives to 'wearable alarms' and web cameras – which, according to the article, are so…yesterday.  The 'new' technology incorporates – get ready – radar (Villanova research), motion sensors, and cameras. Ah, but really, it looks like they were all around, yesterday.

Who knew that wearable was over? Certainly not the resellers in the $1 billion+ PERS market – they understandably think they have something of a cash cow of recurring revenue – with one-time charges plus monthlies that can last several years at least.  Not for the Health Datapalooza attendees – just getting their companies into gear to actually do something with all of those transmitted terabytes – see Jonathan Bush and the cutely-named athenahealth. See Intel Lab’s We the Data. (I love that title!) And definitely not the younger set, since wearable just became cooler still, see the Apple Developer conference. See CES and beyond – those include fitness gadgets, smart phones, and Apple and Samsung watches-to-be which will measure health this-and-that.

Sensors in a senior’s home – been there, done that.  This category has been around for nearly a decade (see QuietCare launch) – and that doesn’t count the $13 billion home security market, where we the people (or our security service providers) have been watching our driveways for decades. But despite the Colorado, Villanova, and Missouri research – which can be added to multiple research projects in age labs far and wide – sensors for home monitoring of seniors in independent living never did see a groundswell of adoption.  Why do senior-focused home monitoring companies (radar, thermal, optical or otherwise) end up including or partnering with a PERS provider? Is it because George – or Mary -- may walk out of the radar-enabled apartment into the garden – and even down the block?  Or get into a car and drive away?

Monitor the person or the place? Wait, who used that phrase?  Actually, you might have read it on this site in 2009.  That’s a major dilemma for this industry, which must rely on the most limited and infrequent statistical samples of which seniors who are at risk for falls actually use any technologies at all. So if 1 in 3 people older than 65 are falling each year, what do they do after the fall?  Will they buy sensors? Now back to another variant of this 'news' story, when a writer inquired of the nurse, Kelly Nestor, from the radar project: Did she knew of any studies that have demonstrated a tangible benefit to the people who have used these devices? Nestor seemed rather surprised. "I don't know if there have been any qualitative studies that have been done about that at all, in terms of the elderly population." Or quantitative. Rant off.


Laura, after such a strong (and rightful) critique and having knowing that in 2030 it will not be enough human professional caregivers to support all elderly, what direction of technology for senior care could you foreseen?

I believe that the care gap will be underpinned with useful technologies.

What I am tired of are university research projects that are not commercialized into viable product offerings, researchers that are pleased to do the research but that's the end of their role in terms of deployment, and organizations with 'Age' in their title or mission not promoting partnerships that would drive down cost and drive up utility of offerings, and follow their advocacy with strong promotion of utilization.

Hope that clarifies.



As always - your rant is spot on. Rant on!

I completely agree with your position.


As is the case most all the time, I agree with you. Companies, researchers, et al are bent on finding something that sticks in the market. But, they don't seem to understand that people don't want what they are selling. Mainly, in my humble opinion, because they approach the problem entirely wrong. Sadly this is true and will probably stay true for a while. Instead of making products they *want* people to buy, they should start figuring out how to create technology products that will integrate with their lives.

The good news is I think there is going to come a time in the near future where enough people outside of the 'normal' channels of research, creation and manufacturing of products are going to get involved. They're going to come to the game with technology that already exists in other forms and reuse it to create products that make sense.

I've already seen this approach in a few products from overseas and I think it is going to start happening here, too. In the case of older people who are looking for ways to increase their quality of life and stay at home longer, I think we should keep our eyes on places like Kickstarter... they are great places for disruption to begin.