Originally published on thegerontechnologist.com on April 27, 2018.
The world’s population is aging
People all over the world are having less babies and living longer. By 2050, the number of people over 60 is expected to reach 2.1 billion- nearly a quarter of the world’s population. This massive increase in the percentage of older adults within the population means that there will be fewer younger adults to support them.
Contrary to common belief, most older adults hold a positive perception of technology. Many are eager to learn new tech skills- as long as they find them useful. However, most of them admit they require some assistance in setting up and learning to use new devices.
A recent report by the Pew Research Center found that 42% of older adults in the US own smartphones, and 67% use the internet.
So what are the obstacles on the way to adoption of new tech by older people? Well, the truth is that most technology today is designed by younger adults — for younger users.
Gerontechnology is technology that’s designed for older adults
This, however, is changing. Increasingly, we’re seeing technology designed with older adults in mind. This doesn’t mean big buttons and loud audio; it means putting older adults at the center of the design process, and aiming to meet their needs and aspirations.
What might seem simple and intuitive to use for someone who grew up holding a mouse, a keyboard and a smartphone, might not be so simple and intuitive for someone who grew up at a time when the most cutting-edge technology was a black-and-white TV.
Tech that’s “adoptable” by older adults has to offer true value, that’s relevant to their everyday lives, and also be designed in a way that’s simple and easy to use- by everyone.
What do older people need?
Most older people have aspirations and needs that are different to those of younger populations. For instance, older adults are more concerned with aging in place; which means they would rather live in their homes for as long as possible. Still, as one ages, new challenges within the home arise. Technology can help the elderly overcome these challenges. For example, smart homes equipped with motion sensors that can detect a fall and alert emergency services accordingly.
Smartphones are another prime example of technology that has been adopted, in growing numbers, by older adults, but has yet to reach its full potential. How many shiny gaming apps can you find in the app store? How many apps in that same store might actually be useful for someone who is in their 60’s, 70’s or even 80’s? Perceived value, usefulness and design are key factors in driving adoption.
Although still considered a niche market, many startups and some investors are already disrupting the elderly tech market. In the home care category, for instance, Honor, an Andreessen Horowitz backed company, offers personalized home care services, and allows care-recipients and family members to schedule the caregiver’s visits using an app.
Intuition Robotics, a TRI backed company, has developed social companion technology, which it has implemented in ElliQ, a social robot that they call a “sidekick for happier aging” (full disclosure, the writer of this article works for Intuition Robotics).
There are many more companies that have began to target the elderly demographic, including TrueLink Financial, Vayyar and MyndYou, not to mention tech giants like Apple and Google.
Golden Age of Gerontechnology
It’s clear that there’s ample opportunity for innovation in the longevity economy, and that there’s also money to be made. Older Americans fuel the economy and spend 4.6 trillion dollars annually on consumer goods and services.
For these reasons, not to mention the added social value, I choose to invest in this market, which, I believe, is going to explode over the next few decades.
I’d say that we’re about to enter a golden age of gerontechnology.