Some Straight Talk About Technologies That Support Aging In Place

“The Decade of Healthy Aging: A global collaboration, aligned with the last ten years of the Sustainable Development Goals, that brings together governments, civil society, international agencies, professionals, academia, the media, and the private sector to improve the lives of older people, their families, and the communities in which they live”

World Health Organization, 2021
Image Credit:

Recently I received a book recommendation from a longtime reader of this blog who pointed out that they’ve enjoyed the “Straight Talk” series of posts but thought that I’d missed a big trend around an important topic that doesn’t get enough attention – age tech.

The book they recommended was The Age Tech Revolution: A Book About the Intersection of Technology and Aging by Keren Etkin. I immediately purchased and downloaded the book and couldn’t put it down. If you are interested in the intersection between demographic trends, global economies, and technology, this is a great read, helping understand the changes we are facing as a society and what role technology plays in all of this. A glimpse into our future from a passionate expert that has devoted her life to researching this topic but incorporating real-world experience as well, with a strong understanding of how technology is developed and scaled.

The book and her website, The Gerontechnologist, are the most comprehensive resources on age tech, the market, and the companies working in that space that I’ve found to date. If you are interested in this topic, do yourself a favor and buy the book, and bookmark her website. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s my take on where we stand today, the challenges and opportunities in the market, and the technologies that support the ability to allow an individual to age in place.

The challenges – By 2050, we’ll have two billion people over the age of sixty living on this planet—that’s twice what we had in 2017. In the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, people over sixty-five are expected to be about 28 percent by 2050. On the other side of the equation, the “caregiver support ratio,” which is the number of potential caregivers aged forty-five to sixty-four for each person aged eighty and older—is declining. In 2010, every American over the age of eighty who needed care had seven potential family caregivers. By 2030, they will only have three (AARP Public Policy Institute, 2013). The US will face “a shortfall of over hundreds of thousands of direct care workers and several million unpaid family caregivers. This has real consequences for families, not only in America but also worldwide.

Image Credit: AARP The Longevity Economy® Outlook
Image Credit: AARP The Longevity Economy® Outlook

Costs are going up too. Genworth, who conducts and publishes an annual Cost of Care Survey, estimated in 2020 that the monthly median price for in-home care is expected to increase by approximately 30 percent by 2030. There will be a similar increase in the cost of assisted living and nursing homes, which are higher, to begin with. Currently, the cost of just two years of in-home care or assisted living could easily surpass $100,000, and many people require care for much longer than that.

Another challenge for the future is “the longevity factor.” Scientific breakthroughs will extend our lives by more than a year, for every year we are alive. This is called longevity escape velocity, and some experts think it’s only 12 to 15 years away. Of course, getting to that point is multidimensional. It means addressing health from all angles, with personal lifestyle choices, technology, and more.

The opportunities – AARP, the nonprofit, estimates there’s a $9 trillion economy all around us. It’s ripe for innovation. We have a unique opportunity within the next ten years to build better technology that will serve the needs and wants of the aging population and ultimately make us a more age-inclusive society. And, the 50-plus population has money to spend on products and services that make their lives easier, safer, and more productive. The 50-plus population is an economic engine in its own right, which helps drive the overall economy. Almost two-thirds of spending on financial services and insurance is attributable to the 50-plus age demographic for whom retirement and other financial planning needs are immediate and pressing. This spending provides an opportunity for industry leaders to make their companies more universally relevant by targeting the 50-plus cohort while simultaneously benefiting other generations.

Image Credit: AARP The Longevity Economy® Outlook

Foundational technologies that support aging-in-place – Few misconceptions are more pervasive than the notion that older adults are unenthusiastic about technology. The opposite is true. Numerous studies have shown that older Americans are embracing technology. Indeed, one survey in 2018 found that of the 50-plus population, more than 90% own a computer or laptop, 70% have a smartphone, and over 40% own a tablet. Moreover, older adults’ demand for technology goes beyond smartphones and apps. Their enthusiastic adoption of smart home assistants, strong interest in automobiles with computerized driving assistance, and enrollment in computer-based distance education suggests that business leaders in technology would do well to pay them greater attention. The problem lies not in an unwillingness to adopt but in being overlooked by the industry.

Image Credit: University of Michigan, Institute for Health Policy and Innovation, 2/9/2022

“AARP’s research has found a sharp increase in older adults purchasing and using technology during the pandemic, and many are interested in using technology to track health measures.”

Indira Venkat, Vice President, Consumer Insights, AARP

I believe that several “foundational” technologies will support the development of products and services to allow individuals to age in place. Remember that these will not be standalone use cases but will be combined with other technologies to create an exponential benefit for the user. Here they are in no particular order:

Voice technology – I’ve written here before on voice-enabled technology in health care. But I genuinely believe that this is one of the key foundational technologies that will support aging-in-place. Not only does the technology eliminate the need for complex user interfaces, but it can also be used in combination with AI and Machine Learning to determine a person’s state of mind, assess cognitive function and emotional health. Applications like Google’s Duplex allows Google Assistant to make calls for you and schedule appointments with local businesses and is currently being rolled out to select geographies and devices.

Robot assistance and companions – This is another technology I’ve covered before. Now that I’m older, I fully expect to have a live-in robot to help me with my ADLs (Activities of Daily Living) and household maintenance if I should require assistance. We could build home robots to handle household maintenance and help with ADLs.

Ambient technology solutions – We can develop ambient technology that’s embedded in our homes, able to anticipate our needs, and provide us with instant solutions. The idea of the “smart home” for seniors has been around for some time now. The phrase “Smart Home” means different things to different people. Any time a home gets some “intelligence” incorporated into some aspect of it, it gets a “smart home feature.” A smart home feature is any aspect of a home — usually involving some type of gadget or appliance — that incorporates some level of automation or programmable behavior. Smart home features also often include some aspect of “connectivity” — either to the outside world or other elements in the house.

An excellent way to think about smart home features is this. Various smart home features are suitable for the population at large. These include thermostats, automation of appliances, security systems (burglar alarms, video doorbells), and air quality. Then some specific smart home features might seem especially useful for subgroups of the population — including some who are “older adults.” These include things like a “smart device” which can connect wirelessly to a hearing aid, or some other type of personalized hearing gadget (e.g., headphone); a smart fridge that automatically reorders staples for you when they go low, and knows when you need to throw out old food; or a smart home gadget that replaces a conventional front door lock with a similar lock that can be opened either by a key or by a code entered into a set of buttons.

Since the smart home concept involves multiple technologies that need to be integrated, serviced, and supported, this creates an opportunity to create a business model around “The Smart Home as a Service.” This service would: help you pick the smart home features you need; teach you how to install the equipment or do it for you; provide ongoing monitoring and maintenance. And it would be easy to add a layer of extra services “enabled” by the smart home data, such as regular changing smoke alarm batteries and other routine preventative maintenance tasks. Over the last few years, we have seen several companies attempt to offer services like this.

Here’s a link to a recent Fast Company article on how Canadian communities are redesigning senior living.

Companies working in the AgeTech market space – As I mentioned earlier, the most comprehensive resource I’ve found is Keren Etkin’s website. She’s posted a terrific infographic with a list of companies developing technology solutions by market segment. I’ve included a copy below:

Image Credit: Karen Etkin, The Gerontechnologist website, accessed 2/9/2022

We have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to impact the experience of living as an older adult in this world using technology. It’s a market that’s not getting the attention that it demands. But there’s hope on the horizon as more tech incubators focus their efforts on developing startups working in the space. Time to get moving, folks! I’m not getting any younger 😏

3 thoughts on “Some Straight Talk About Technologies That Support Aging In Place

Leave a Reply