Two thoughtful articles this week comment on the difference between the highly touted ‘age-tech’ and products and services that older people actually need and want. The first is by the Centre for Ageing Better’s Jemma Mouland, who quite ably points out that ‘age-tech’ as a category (apologies to Laurie Orlov) inherently screams ‘old’, ‘feeble’, and ‘ill’–while it searches desperately for the ‘silver unicorn’. Yes, older people (and the disabled) do need solutions that help with changes as we age, but even the things that we need tend to be couched in negatives, feel like they don’t fit in our lives, reinforce a feeling of decline, or stigmatize. (The real hot button issues are hearing, vision, and driving.)
Moreover, older consumers often feel left behind or neglected by (formerly) favorite brands or services. A recent UK retail study stated that this is the belief of over 80 percent of 55+ consumers–now edging into the older cohort of Gen X. (One observation this Editor will make is that a huge negative is current clothing appearance, fit and cut.) It’s disappointing to your Editor as a marketer–that means that this group, with 83 percent of household wealth in age 50+ hands, keeps their wallets shut.
MIT Technology Review this month is cited in Ms. Mouland’s article. Building on Joseph Coughlin’s work at the MIT AgeLab in its ‘Old Age Is Over!’ issue, he cites that old age and even retirement is an obsolete construct built on early 19th century beliefs around the depletion of ‘vital energy’ and 20th century social policy around that. The stereotype the latter built was one was either needy–needing social support, or greedy–living the easy retirement life off a pension and looking for early-bird specials. That tends to frame how we look at older people in employment, in living at home, or in social policy as driving up the cost of care–just a problem to be solved, and certainly not productive or, in Ezekiel Emanuel’s end game, even worthy of anything other than palliative medical care or being part of the political polity.
Mr. Coughlin’s close may be a bit reductionist, but this Editor will take it. “By treating older adults not as an ancillary market but as a core constituency, the tech sector can do much of the work required to redefine old age. But tech workplaces also skew infamously young. Asking young designers to merely step into the shoes of older consumers (and we at the MIT AgeLab have literally developed a physiological aging simulation suit for that purpose) is a good start, but it is not enough to give them true insight into the desires of older consumers. Luckily there’s a simpler route: hire older workers.” And work on making your products and service meet the needs of a broad spectrum of people. Hat tip to Alistair Appleby of Optalis–whose team, in a bit of news, is moving over to Wokingham Borough Council at the end of the month.
“It’s like déjà vu all over again” as Yogi Berra, the fast-with-a-quip Baseball Hall of Fame catcher-coach-manager once said. About 2006-7, telecare broke through as a real-world technology and the tone of the articles then was much like how this New York Times article starts. But the article, in the context of events in the past two years, indicate that finally, finally there is a turning point in care tech, and we are on the Road to Critical Mass, where the build, even with a few hitches, is unstoppable.
Have telehealth, telecare, digital health or TECS (whatever you’d like to call it) turned the corner of acceptability? More than that, has it arrived at what industrial designer Raymond Loewy dubbed MAYA (Most Advanced Yet Acceptable) in keeping older adults safer and healthier at home? The DIY-installed Lively! system keeps an eye on a hale 78 year old (more…)
No deal yet between insurer giants. Cigna turned down a $53.8 billion bid from Anthem. According to Healthcare Finance, concerns ranged from corporate governance problems, their membership in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the probable chairman’s (from the Anthem side) qualifications and data security (ahem!). Given that Anthem’s 60 million record breach was an inadvertent inside job [TTA 11 Feb], the last is perfectly understandable. But the door appears to be open for the emollient of additional money (to mix a metaphor). Extra: a tart take on this from the WSJ…..Jaguar is looking to increase driving safety by reading your brain waves to detect if you are distracted or daydreaming, via sensors embedded into the steering wheel. It’s based on technology used by NASA and the US bobsled team. They are also working on mood enhancing lighting and a predictive system to speed your interactions with the dashboard to minimize eyes off the road. But will these detect if you feel good to be bad, as their adverts say? Gizmag….The FT gets into digital health via business, profiling startups such as Lyra Health, Genomics England and Heartflow, as well as 23andme and Google X (including the glucose-detecting contact lens we profiled 18 months ago. Hat tips to Eric Topol and David Doherty (mHealth Insight) via Twitter….The NY Times looks at the dark side of ‘senior independence’ with a group of NYC homebound seniors, but other than tut-tutting the desire of older mainly limited income New Yorkers to remain in familiar surroundings, our ‘national celebration of independence’ (!) and not to be institutionalized (their words), the article doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions. And solutions are badly needed for the nearly 2 million over 65 who rarely or never leave their homes, because not all of them will be in assisted living. Hat tip to Joseph Coughlin of MIT AgeLab via Twitter…. But in Australia, they’re exploring ‘future proofing’ and ‘dignity enabling’ homes for an aging population to make them more livable and accessible, via landscaped ramps, larger bathrooms, and sensor rich floors that connect to gait tracking and analysis. Smart Homes 2.0. Sydney Morning Herald…..Neil Versel over at his new MedCityNews stand reports on Doctor On Demand‘s test of tablet-based medical kiosks adjacent to the pharmacy department at four Wegman’s grocery stores here in the Northeast. Is Weis Market far behind?….And Fitbit has a bit part in ‘Law and Order’…well, not the TV show in perpetual reruns, but in a real-life case in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which is not all Amish farms, black carriages and the so-called Amish Mafia. The police used Fitbit activity data to determine that a local resident (and Fitbit wearer), who claimed she was raped by a stranger, staged the crime scene with overturned furniture, a knife, and a bottle of vodka in her home. ABC27 News via David Lee Scher.
In the US aging services is defined as the combination of public and private support older adults need as they age, encompassing healthcare, housing, transportation, nutrition etc. What will they be like in the future? Joseph Coughlin, director of MIT AgeLab, spoke on a panel at the American Society on Aging’s recent General Session on the Future of Aging on how aging services will change to meet the four points of ‘new’ summarized in his BigThink article: the new consumer (quite different than the present old), new technology (robot companions, proactive sensing of health changes, connective communications), new strategic partnerships (public-private, retailers, senior housing providers, financial services) and the new aging services professional (a blend of technologist, gerontologist, social worker, clinician, business person and holistic care provider.) For those with institutional or library access, the Oxford Journals Public Policy & Aging Report has two additional articles by Mr. Coughlin expanding on these points.