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Can baby boomers afford to pay for parents' aging in place technology?

It's both a given and a strong conviction: Caregivers worry about the cost of technology to help seniors age in their own homes.  And in fact, so does everyone else.  Vendors and experts think or talk about the potential for all technology (or a vendor-specific technology) to be more affordable if it is to be adopted. Again and again, I hear the issue of 'who will pay' for technology to help seniors remain in their own home. And I detect a hope (and a bias) towards insurance reimbursment that will be government-directed and will lower the cost of care. I don't believe it -- and even more emphatically, I know that caregivers (aka the baby boomer children of those who are aging) can afford to pay.

Let's look at attitudes of caregivers for a second: We know that seniors and their caregivers are concerned about cost of technology. In fact, in the AARP Healthy@Home study, three-fourths or more said they would only be willing to pay less than $50/month for:  PC's to stay in touch with those they care for; home safety and monitoring technologies; and health and wellness technologies.  Lest you think this is just one survey, remember the 2007 Clarity survey in which 51% of baby boomers believe that tech will help their aging parents, but only 14% have looked for any.

Okay now let's get a reality check on those baby boomers:  In Forrester's 2008 survey of consumers and technology, 76% of baby boomers are mobile phone owners, 77% go online at least monthly, 87% have PCs, 57% have broadband.  And in other studies -- average income of older baby boomers, those who are more likely to have frail parents, is more tha $58,000, two-thirds have discretionary income

So -- a family cell phone plan costs: $70/month on average.  Let's say that the average cost of Internet service (via Cable, Satellite, DSL, or other) is $43/month, although when combined with TV, let's add another $55/month.  So we're at $168/month to watch TV, talk on a cell phone, and access the Internet.

Let's add in average monthly costs for Netflix or Blockbuster ($18/month), or average monthly costs of GPS ($10), smartphones ($60-80/month), gyms/health clubs ($35/month) or other dues.  Now that's another $133, bringing us to $301/month, what most baby boomers would refer to as costs they both need and want. (Not included: cost of devices phones, TV, game consoles, or any other one-time installation expenses.)

So when a technology to help their aging parents comes along -- like Verizon's 65+ calling plan for $29.99/month (or see a full list of choices), plus $3.99 for the Pill Phone reminder technology, a Mailbug for $9.95/month, a PERS device and monitoring servoce (average $50/month).  We are talking about $93.93/month to connect to an aging parent in another city, remind them to take their meds, and offer them a wearable link to a service or person in the event of an emergency.Again, as with boomers, equipment costs are extra.

Split the monthly cost among 2 adult children (baby boomers have more siblings than prior generations) -- now it's $47.  That's today's technologies, not a future set.  I think we just not done a very good job of explaining the problem or opportunity for baby boomers. They can help their parents stay in touch, stay safe, and stay healthier -- without insurance reimbursement.

And for those who think the numbers above are incorrect or just plain wrong-headed, please comment or e-mail me!






Laurie brings up an incredibly good issue. However, many seniors DO have the wherewithal financially to afford these high tech aids. And even for families that do not, when faced with the prospect of moving to an expensive assisted living facility, the cost of technology to help a parent age in their own home can be money well spent. Of course no technology aids can stave off required assistance forever, but if even for a year, the savings of staying out of a full time care facility easily can pay back the cost of the technology aids that help a family preserve the status quo.

Every family's situation is different, so there is no simplistic answer here. But understanding how these tools can help is extremely important to the decision making process.

Peter Radsliff,
CEO, Presto Services Inc.

Great post. I agree with you and think we to really have effective programs (current technologies) we haven't even scratched the surface of the costs to the consumers. I look forward to seeing what the mainstream providers like Verizon will be able to provide at a lower cost. Consumers hit by this recession will be hesitant to engage in anything that costs them more money, especially if they feel they can possibly manage this on their own. We know that these technologies can help, but many consumers think they have the abilities to manage these types of tasks on their own thereby saving money. These companies are going to be up against these types of consumers and will need to cut their service charges to show customers the need for new technologies. This doesn't even take into account additional helpful technologies and home modifications needed to aid in seniors "aging in place."


Good article and great breakdown of costs.

I think it is not an issue of affordability but of desirability.

Despite their attempts and good intentions, many of these technology solutions don't do a very good job of selling staying in touch, staying safe, and staying healthier. They haven't spent the time to understand the un-articulated desires of their customers. They are just selling technology features. On top of that many people who would benefit from such technologies don't feel old or in need of help so they aren't going to buy products that tell them they are old and frail, even if their date of birth and doctor provide different information.

Sustainable positive behavior changes happens through joy not fear. For example the Wii fit doesn't sell active aging, a 65+ video console, Boomer bowling, or fall prevention exercise; they sell just FUN to everyone.

My solution - find out what PEOPLE want and stop the engineers from building products they think "boomers want for their aging parents." On top of that let us stop talking about "aging in place!" No one wants to age in place. How do I know that? Test it yourself. During this time of holiday gatherings ask the question of friends and family, "What is your age in place plan?" They will stare at you with curiosity and quickly decide you have enjoyed too much of the holiday eggnog. Ask them "What does home mean to you?" and I am sure you will begin a very interesting conversation that is based on their core values, beliefs and desires.

I agree technology holds promise but let us improve user insight to direct us.

Keep up the great work and Happy Holidays.

Jason Popko
o: 510.525.4657
Berkeley, CA

‘Most of the end users of this potential technology really want to have an experience with it before committing to it’.  You’re absolutely right! Years ago I organized ‘mobility fairs’ for older people and had technology companies who participated bring their products for people to see and feel or use; very successful for both companies and older people. I tried to get stores, such as Home Depot, to develop a ‘home safety’ section where an older person could see/try the variety of products or technologies available to meet their functional and safety needs, but it went nowhere. Thanks for your excellent thoughts.


Rein Tideiksaar, PhD

FallPrevent, LLC

In my experience as a geriatric care manager who makes hundreds of visits to clients every year who are living in their own homes or in assisted living facilities, rarely do I find the client who prefers moving/living in a "facility" over living in their own home. With the baby boomers being a massive cohort on the aging cusp, it is of tremendous value that they are the ones driving the demand for technology R&D since they will, eventually, be the end users. This is just the beginning of what will surely be amazing strides in the use of assistive aides for the future. We cannot expect technology to be the panacea for all of agings' challenges. We can only learn how to better develop products and their end function and value through trial and error. After attending the Silver Summit in Las Vegas, I have confidence, excitement, and great hope for a better way of growing old when the time comes. Debra


A very nice article. I thank Jason for sending me the link.

I found it interesting that when attendees at the Healthcare Unbound Conference held in SF last July were asked “would you be able to source a piece of technology to assist your parents within the next week” only 10 people in an audience of 300 raised their hands, and these are the industry leaders. To me the issue is not cost, the marketing spin or the benefits/feature/functions; it’s access. Most of the end users of this potential technology really want to have an experience with it before committing to it. Try to find a “senior cell phone” or PRS device or a technology-enabled pill monitor to hold in your hand before you purchase and well, good luck. While the boomer customer may feel comfortable purchasing sight unseen over the Internet, the eventual end user may put up resistance until they have had a positive experience or at least one that puts their individual doubts and fears to rest. And if you have tried to buy such a device over the phone using the 800 number you will know the customer experience is horrible.

I believe we are at a point in the evolution of this market that is very similar to the beginning of the personal computer industry in early 1980's; we need a “ComputerLand of Conscious Aging Technology” so people can experience and purchase the devices (or not) and feel personally supported in the learning curve and inevitable troubleshooting and customer support issues. Home Preferred is poised to meet this need and we are getting closer to closing a significant funding source.

May 2009 bring all of us the manifestation of our biggest dreams.

John Kalb, Founder and CEO HomePreferred
Direct: 415.209.6585 | Mobile: 415.717.5241

Despite their attempts and good intentions, many of these technology solutions don't do a very good job of selling staying in touch, staying safe, and staying healthier. Maybe, but I think that they actually DO a good job in selling the ‘illusion of staying in touch, safe and healthier’. Rather than selling people ‘what they WANT’, companies need to sell ‘what they NEED’ and it’s up to health-related professionals to tell companies what people need. Good discussion. Thanks for including me in the discussion.

Rein Tideiksaar, PhD  FallPrevent, LLC

Yes, baby boomers can afford to pay for the technology to help their parents age in place.  Your article is right on the "money" the boomers are the wealthiest generation in the history of the world.  The challenge is educating the boomer and their parents about the different technology solutions and getting them to use techology so they can benefit. 

I think your site is a wonderful tool, moving us in the right direction.

Scott Landrum, VIVA! Choices, Inc.


Friends, I am finding that the "call center" concept will be the deciding factor for comfort. Not only for the senior/disabled but for the extended care giver family. People trump technology almost every time. The problem is getting people to pay for the call center. T
Thomas E. Sweeny, CLTC, CFBS
Business and Financial Strategies
Waypoint Consulting LLC
715 Knotty Pine Road
Charleston, SC  29412-9125
Cell:     843-696-3992
Fax:     843-406-7606

Interesting insight! From my previous experiences with developing fall prevention programs with community elders, I agree with your ‘call center concept’/the potential implementation barriers. My question is this: Can call centers be independent of technology or always dependent on technology (i.e., call center used to support technology; such as some PERS programs)? In the latter case, it’s the ‘technology’ that’s driving the call center mission/objectives, which may or may not be sufficient to meet the elder’s safety needs.


Thanks, Rein


Rein Tideiksaar, PhD

FallPrevent, LLC

 I agree technology will not replace the human touch and decision making that a formal or informal  caregiver can apply.  But technology can help bridge distance, shorten  response time  and be assistive to all parties if applied smartly.    

I think of the married boomer family where both adults work and are caregivers to two sets of elderly parents  plus keeping an eye on  their  kids at the same time.  The working boomer will do this from their workplace -- now with a  grim economic environment,   the  working boomer  hopes that good communication technology can give them peace of mind from 8-5 and will reduce the need for them to be frequently  distracted or absent from work that might put them on the layoff list.   There is also the  communications  with the “remote elder”  who lives in Fla or Arizona   part of the year for instance,  with family hundreds of  miles away and  feeling concerned and wanting to be in the caregiving loop no matter what the distance.       The “elder orphan” is  another interesting segment.   In order to maintain independence  an elder orphan might  be their own caregiver  with the knowledge that they need to be  proactive  to get connected  with a call center  that is reliable and responsive in order to  maintain their independent life a bit longer.

For today’s elderly population the human touch trumps technology use in most cases  – but in the future,  as we boomers age,   our children and grandchildren will be our caregivers  -- just look at how they  are using technology  today to advance their social life  using  cell phones , texting and email .  These are our future caregivers,  and they will expect us, the  future elderly to be connected with them 24/7 perhaps using technology and communication methods that are not even invented yet.   In the future technology may trump the human touch in most cases  due to the size of our population and the lack of sufficient or nearby by caregiving capability.  



Susan Ayers Walker

Technology Journalist


Managing Director, SmartSilvers




S, I use the analogy of the phone answering device that we have come to find indispensible since it came out 20 years ago. In the beginning it was intrusive, awkward and we didn't trust it. Now it's part of our lives and extends our participation in multiple life events. I think the operative word is "extend" your abilities and capacities. The call centers will allow the cared for to call someone if the care family is unavailable. The call centers are expensive to operate, but I don't see them going to India in the next 5 years. Maybe a new career for retired seniors looking for light employment. Training will be critical.  T

     Well. I cannot imagine a group more passionate on this subject, and here we are in one place. Should we be continuing on Laurie's blog (or mine, or Jason's, or.... ) so our discussion occurs in a public space?

     Aging in Place is a more desirable housing and care option that makes good use of human, medical and financial resources. Aging in Place uses technologies and design as foundations to a comprehensive and dynamic management and monitoring system (sensors, roll in showers, pers, call center, service providers). This is not just stepped up home and community based services. It is a paradigm level shift from the current system to something efficient, organized and pro-active..."Just in Time for the well designed Home".

     Design modifications help avoid injury before the crisis that currently forces someone from their home. Monitoring technology helps avoid expensive and debilitating illness.
     Design modifications provide a safe and ergonomic caregiver environment after the crisis. The management technology keeps the system dynamic, current at all times, and providers functional.

     Ideally, crisis blips are smoothed into a continuum. All together this saves money and enhances dignity.  As with many other systems approaches, it doesn't work well before the system is fully functional. This applies to machine and circuit technology, as well as bureaucracy and routine. Until the system is pretty close to fully functional little of the value is revealed. Picture a car without ....gas, OR spark plug wires, etc. Imagine a computer without power Or a keyboard or.... Think of the world wide web before the first browser...netscape was a miracle! And now think of the info on the web without google ....a really functional search tool.

     We don't yet have a diagram or algorithm for the system. Before that we cannot imagine the full range of expenses -cost and savings. Unless the system is operated on a capitated basis...spreading the luck- good health and bad - over a population instead of individual cost, the budget cannot be planned. 

     A pleasure to be sharing this discussion with all of you.

Louis Tenenbaum, CAASH, CAPS
Independent Living Strategist

P.O. Box 60027, Potomac, MD 20859
direct: 301.983.0131 

In concept, I agree with you. But ‘technology’ needs to be individualized and targeted based on NEED. For elders with issues involving multiple domains (i.e., medical/psychological or health, functional/environmental and social problems), the use of a ‘geriatric case manager’ might be preferable to technology.


Thanks, Rein


Rein Tideiksaar, PhD

FallPrevent, LLC


Hi Rein  -- Yes I agree on your point – but technology,   if used smartly,  can assist and augment the human touch .   Most  independent elderly have times in their day when they are not  “covered”   and are going about their activities of daily living .   However access to reliable   and easy to use communication technology  (i.e. a wireless wearable button or watch, or an intercom in an apartment environment for example )  can save a life in the case of a fall  or a sudden onset of chest pains in the night,    or be a useful  reminder that it is time to take a med .   As technology evolves it will  be more intuitive and/ or  be easily  programmable to an individual’s situation.

I am not saying that technology will  ever replace the skilled geriatric case manager, it should not  – but the geriatric case manager should be aware and open to the use of   technology’s  availability for the consumer and that technology can be applied in some ( not all) cases as a assistive device or tool to augment quality of life and independence -- just like an OTC blood pressure device, a common  weight scale,  a pill box alarm reminder, a seat lift, or a robotic rumba to help vacuum the rug.


I love this conversation and I'm pleased to be involved.  Laurie, your article is excellent and brings up an excellent point.  I do not think it's a question of money, but rather a question of "are they ready for us?"
I was involved with an Internet Service Provider (the first one in our county) back in the early 90s and I was teaching classes on Internet fundamentals and seminars on how the Internet can help your business.  Many local business owners paid $150 to come and listen to a 2 hour seminar on what the Internet was.  They all were very interested, but when asked if they wanted to move forward, a common response was "my company is about people. Our customers don't want some machine telling them about our product, they want the personal touch.  It sounds like a great idea, but we are not interested in getting a web page". 
Somehow this all sounds very familiar!  :)
We are promoting a new idea, a new way of life that doesn't really replace anything - it's a completely new concept .  It's not like a cell phone replacing a real phone.  I would imagine it would be like trying to sell the idea of gas stations for a future "automobile", before people really even knew they would want to use a car vs. what already worked for them.
The facts are that either way we are faced with a huge disruptive demographic.  An aging tsunami is heading our way.  Brick and mortar and people cannot handle this alone.  With almost all disruptive demographics, an enabling technology must come in and be part of the solution.
Technology will not be a simple replacement, but rather be a supplement to everything else.  Like when banks started to use computers, they still needed people, but the computers helped to make the workers more efficient and accurate.  We have never said that a computer is smarter yet than man or that it can replace a human touch.  But, I do think that humans can be smarter, more "aware" and more efficient with the aid of technology.
I enjoy this topic and I think since I do not have a speaker in place for our next aging & technology conference call on Thursday January 8th (2pm EST/1pm CST), we will discuss this.  Laurie, if you're available, hopefully you can be on the call to talk about your original post. 
Everyone is welcome to join us (conference calls are every Thursday at 2pm EST/1pm CST - as of the new year our calls shifted one hour from 2008)

Conference Dial-in Number: (269) 320-8200

Participant Access Code: 968410#

In regards to a forum, we have one as well that everyone is welcome to join in:  http://dealerweb.grandcare.com

    Right, AND....are we ready for them?
    Does the technology alert reach providers (and managers- tech and otherwise) who can fully and reliably respond to needs?
    Is the payment system fluid and seamless? or are payments late, denied and vary by client qualifications, insurance coverage and program eligibility?
    Once that is assured the cost of the technology and call center will be saved by the avoided health costs and management efficiencies. Until then the cost is high- because there is no value.

    Cost is not the question- especially for mature consumers- it is what you get for your money.

Louis Tenenbaum, CAASH, CAPS
Independent Living Strategist

P.O. Box 60027, Potomac, MD 20859
direct: 301.983.0131


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