Building Smart Technology For An Aging Population
When today’s older adults were kids, owning a television was considered a luxury. Personal computers had yet to be conceptualized, and rotary-style landline phones were the norm. Decades later, both technology and its impact on aging have reshaped our lives.
In today’s technology landscape, devices that once seemed like science fiction are now being used to help make people’s lives safer, healthier and more enjoyable as they age. Certain technologies are ensuring that older adults can be independent and healthy. But as a technology company, how do you ensure that you’re designing products that take into consideration the needs of the senior population? Additionally, how do you ensure that they’re affordable and useful for your entire audience?
Technology For Older Adults And Family Caregivers
Although older adults are often considered less technologically savvy than younger generations, they are becoming more digitally connected than ever before. This is important, especially since research conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2034, adults 65 and older will outnumber children for the first time in history.
Older adults and their family caregivers are more readily adopting technology that can support their shared goals: longevity, quality of life, independence, connection to friends and family, and safety. As a result, they are embracing new tools as a part of everyday life.
With these criteria, where do you start when designing a product or service for this audience?
• Know the challenges that face older adults. When designing products for older adults, it’s mission-critical that companies take into account the challenges that their customer base is presented with each day. Developers often lose sight of what end users in the longevity market really need; they should be focusing on the older adults themselves. Whether it be sensory functions such as vision or hearing, motor skills or cognitive changes, age-related challenges are an important factor when older adults are making decisions on technology.
Take motor skill decline, for example. Build the hardware for your device with amendable features — a modified keyboard, large buttons and grips or handles on the device itself. Design and product teams should prioritize functions such as enlarged font size, screen readers and speech synthesizers.
Ensure that your product or service appeals to a broad range of functional skill levels and, if necessary, can be modified without significant cost increases. For example, we offer ride-sharing services that don’t require a smartphone app, as we found that many older adults that have given up driving aren’t comfortable using smartphones. Effective innovations in this space will be products and services that solve complex problems with simplicity and thoughtfulness.
• Offer multiple solutions. When developing products for the 65-and-over market, remember that it’s not a single cohort with one solution that works for everyone. Over the years, multiple innovative technologies in this market have emerged and failed to connect with their intended audience. The technologies are cutting-edge but seem to be created by teams that have little understanding of the senior market.
You should offer multiple solutions to meet the varying needs of the audience. If a customer’s goal is staying connected and safe, there are different devices that can be created for different ends of the spectrum. A tech-savvy older adult could benefit from a smartphone with health and safety features. If safety and peace of mind are the top concerns, consider offering a wearable personal emergency response system (PERS) that offers emergency buttons. PERS are designed with ease of use in mind and offer older adults instant access to trained agents if emergencies occur. And for those not ready for a medical alert but not comfortable with a smartphone, a flip phone or wearable could provide the connectivity they’re looking for in a format that suits their needs.
• Keep family caregivers in mind. From my experience, when building a company — or products and services — aimed at making the lives of older adults easier, you must consider the population that has the same mission: caregivers. Caregiving takes many forms: family caregivers, in-home aids or professional caregivers in the case of a senior care facility. By supporting professional caregivers and medical staff in professional facilities, technology can help achieve the healthcare triple aim: better outcomes, lower costs and greater patient satisfaction.
Real-time sensors help keep a virtual eye on residents around the clock. By monitoring activities of daily living such as eating and sleeping, the technology can create baseline patterns for residents using predictive analytics, which will then identify significant changes in those patterns that may indicate a change in health status. Virtual assistants can help read the news, give weather updates and send messages. Digital management tools can help with the daily administrative tasks that often fall on caregivers, such as appointment organization, medication adherence and medical record keeping.
Technology has had a significant impact on the rapidly growing aging population from both a consumer and a commercial perspective. On an individual level, tech is supporting older adults and their caregivers by improving quality of life, independence and safety. At the commercial level, technology trends in multiple care environments are supporting professional caregivers, increasing quality of care and often providing bottom-line benefits.
In the aging space, it is critical to prioritize functionality that meets specific needs for seniors over the “cool factor.”