The 65+ mature market and the aging-in-place phenomenon are two of the timeliest intertwined trends that offer opportunities across the healthtech and wellness landscape — for brands, innovators, investors and ultimately, the retail channels.
COVID-19 forced seniors to start looking for technology-based solutions more than ever before – as a consequence of being stuck in their homes with the sudden evaporation of direct access to family and/or in-person medical appointments. Loneliness and isolation are forcing them to use devices – and is accelerating the adoption of devices quicker than might have otherwise occurred. Seniors are acquiring digital skills and are more connected to the Internet than ever.
Connected and digital health capabilities are also enabling them to be in 24/7 contact with their caretakers and health providers. Consumer-based solutions and devices are figuratively, and in actuality, ‘lifelines,’ enabling older adults to connect with their communities, friends, and families – while maintaining their quality of life and wellbeing while they live independently and safely.
Boomers Setting the Pace
Even pre-pandemic, Boomers and seniors were increasing their uptake of smartphones, Internet connectivity and digital health devices. The push towards wanting to age in place and have in-home healthcare, if needed, was starting to gain traction, and the momentum increased over the course of 2020 with COVID-19.
Given the massive numbers of the Boomer demographic, this group has always been a force for change. They have always lived their lives ‘their way’ – starting from their more youthful, restless days in the ’60s and ’70s through the Beatles and the ‘Age of Aquarius’ era, and onward. That brings us to 2021, and the desire for most of this group to continue to live full, healthy and autonomous lives in their homes of choice. In addition, their increased life expectancy translates into a larger pool of older consumers, and a larger potential market for products and services aimed at this demographic. This is a huge upside opportunity for the retail channel.
By the Numbers
The 65+ population was the fastest-growing age group in the country over the past decade, swelling by more than a third, according to the U.S. Census. AARP is reporting that 87% of those aged 65+ want to stay in their current homes and community, as they age. Americans over the age of 50 account for $7.6 trillion in direct spending and related economic activity, according to Oxford Economics/AARP. Older adults in the U.S. dominate 119 out of 123 consumer packaged-goods categories, according to Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. And by 2030, more people worldwide will be over 60 than under 10, according to the Milken Institute. Between 2015 and 2030, the 60+ population will generate over half of all urban consumption growth in developed countries.
In addition, rising healthcare costs and health policy in the U.S. is driving care into the home. One such example is Medicare’s 2020 changes in reimbursement for telehealth technology, which has been expanded for 2021. Some Medicare Advantage plans now cover at least one pair of hearing aids – and other categories are coming into sharper focus.
The need for home health aides has never been higher, as more people and their families decided that it was best to keep senior family members at home. The demand far exceeds the supply. Complementing this trend, hospitals placed a greater priority on quickly discharging patients to their homes – rather than making them stay longer or moving them to transitional care or rehab. This is requiring more and different types of monitoring. Technology is seen as the answer to aging in place, and the solution to other stresses on the healthcare system that were exacerbated during the height of the pandemic.
Technology to the Rescue
Technology is liberating boomers, seniors, families and caretakers by connecting care to the home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 29% of U.S. seniors ages 65 and older have used video conferencing services, 27% have used telehealth/remote consultation services, 22% have used a grocery store delivery or pickup service, and 55% have an online video service subscription, according to recent research by Parks Associates.
Unlike in the past, when digital services and devices were viewed as only for the 24/7 connected, convenience-seeking Millennials, they are now a lifeline to many homes and individuals of all ages. COVID-19 has spotlighted the role that our homes play in our health and well-being – and together with a variety of technologies, it has transformed ‘home sweet home’ into platforms by which we access services, experiences, and connect with each other.
Recently, AARP launched the AARP Virtual Community Center – a new online destination where older Americans can find a wide array of free online classes and events – including from N.Y.-based OATS – Older Adults Technology Services. “Their [OATS’s] expertise and high-quality programming are lifelines for older people as they explore new ways to live, cope and thrive in a changing world,” said Scott Frisch, AARP executive VP and CEO. “The role of technology in reducing social isolation and providing a platform for engagement has never been clearer,” commented OATS Executive Director Tom Kamber.
Categories and Products
At CES 2021, AARP Innovation Labs showcased products and apps that help people actively and independently age in place in their homes and communities. Here are a few such companies and products.
Zibrio SmartScale – This is a scale that uses a highly sensitive algorithm to measure one’s postural stability and risk of falling, in a 60-second standing test, with eyes open. Users can test their balance on a Zibrio scale to establish a baseline, encourage appropriate intervention like a balance exercise program, and keep tracking balance to see how well the intervention is working, since it comes with the Zibrio Balance Coach app. Zibrio’s patented BioCore balance measurement technology is based on 15 years of research on astronauts, athletes and older adults.
Nobi Monitoring – Nobi looks like an ordinary ceiling-mounted lamp, but it’s packed full of motion and RGB sensors, AI and other tech to help seniors live independently and more safely. It’s a “smart” lamp that will literally watch over an aging family member, and monitors when a person is sitting, laying down or standing – and even illuminates dark rooms when a parent wakes up at an odd hour to go to the bathroom.
While the lamp can detect falls, ask you if everything is okay and if not, send alerts to quickly get help to a caretaker or trusted contact, it’s also meant to prevent falls with activity monitoring and helpful reminders like hydration, reporting fire, or detecting intrusion. It doesn’t require a telephone – and if necessary, Nobi will even open the front door. Nobi debuted at CES 2021 and is expected to be ready for European countries soon.
Caregiver Smart Solution/Aging in Place – This is a smart caregiver solution or wellness monitor that provides insight into a senior’s activity at home or in assisted living communities. The Core Kit includes a downloadable app, a smart hub and small, non-intrusive sensors that are placed discreetly around a home. The collected data is fed into the AI and machine-learning-based app for early detection of potential health issues – and it’s available to the caregiver or family members. This wellness monitor seeks to understand and track normal daily routines, such as if a person is eating, sleeping normally and moving around – and can detect behavioral symptoms of physical changes. Its fall detection and emergency buttons can instantaneously alert the caregiver for immediate help. In addition, the app maintains the history of alerts sent to the caregiver – which can also help answer questions from the doctor.
Samsung/Sight & Hearing Impairment – We all know of Samsung’s reputation for its diverse line of technologically advanced products – but did you know that many of its products also include accessibility features? Declining sight and/or hearing often comes with age or with other conditions. At CES 2021, Samsung introduced its SeeColors Application and Sign Language Zoom Feature across its 2021 range of Neo QLED, Micro LED, and Lifestyle TVs. The SeeColors application helps those with sight challenges better view billions of colors. The app is designed to help those with Color Vision Deficiency to adjust the color settings on their Samsung QLED TVs to meet their individual needs. Samsung also showed off the ability to invert colors on a menu. It leaves the video as it is, but makes it easier for people who are low-vision to see the menu options. In partnership with scientists at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Samsung has adopted the Colorlite Test, or C-test, within the SeeColors app to recognize a user’s CVD levels and then automatically optimize their viewing experience.
Similarly, while declining hearing often comes with aging, there are also those with other types of hearing and accessibility challenges. Accordingly, Samsung also introduced its Sign Language Zoom and Caption Moving features across its 2021 Neo QLED, Micro LED, and lifestyle TVs. Its Sign Language Zoom automatically recognizes and magnifies the sign language area for the hearing-impaired by up to 200%. Users can specify a sign language area and adjust the magnification by zooming in on the area, as well as move the captions to avoid blocking the subtitle text.
These latest apps and features join existing accessibility functionality on Samsung devices like its Galaxy S21. This smartphone supports a wide range of offerings for visual impairment, hearing impairment, and dexterity and mobility issues.
Condition Management: Spotlight on Hearing
Hearing loss is a silent ‘epidemic’ that has been spreading during the last few decades – and it’s not limited to Grandpa. It currently affects more than 1.2 billion people worldwide, disabling 480 million. Hearing loss is related to quality of life, learning abilities, work productivity, and some health conditions – and lately there might be indirect links between hearing loss and COVID-19.
Until recently, the solution for hearing loss was expensive hearing aids, only available through ‘prescription.’ Over the past three years or so, however, this has changed, thanks to a new set of chips and technologies that are enabling the emergence of less expensive personal sound amplification devices (PSADs), distributed through mainstream retail channels – and they represent an ever-growing new revenue opportunity.
Advancing technology inspired by smartphones, even these less-expensive hearing aids ensure that the sound going into one’s ear is clearer, not just louder. They offer sound and speech processing, digital noise and wind noise reduction, plus improved management of those annoying high-pitched feedback screeches, squeals and whistles. They include AI and machine learning to analyze a wearer’s environment and their level of hearing loss, and to automatically make adjustments. They also include varied, non-obtrusive and discreet smaller sizes, and rechargeable batteries as well as Bluetooth streaming capability from a smartphone, computer or TV. Some include fall detection, or act as a fitness tracker when used with a smartphone.
These devices in a variety of form factors are coming from companies like Wehear Hearing Solutions, HeardThat from Singular Hearing, Absolute Audio Labs, Wear&Hear from Alango Technologies, Rexton, Lucid Audio, Soundwear and others. Olive Union blends hearing aids with wireless earbuds.
Companies like Alango Technologies, with its Wear&Hear line, even offer in-store kiosks for express hearing checks that provide results on the spot. Currently, the kiosk is available in seven languages including English, Hebrew, Russian, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Arabic and Dutch.
Related to hearing aids are also other devices that amplify sound, such as an amplified ringer or the visual flasher from Krown, or the portable telephone handset amplifier from Clarity.
These assisted-hearing devices represent major new revenue streams in the senior marketplace given the rising Boomer demographic and sheer size of this aging population – and insurance reimbursement is increasing for a number of these devices.
Starting several years ago – pre-pandemic – tech companies began to see the advantages of designing devices particularly aimed at seniors. Getting these connected and digital health products, services and technologies into the homes of Boomers and older adults is under way, and they offer vast market opportunities for industry players and channels – particularly for those companies and channels already with a footprint in the home.
The trend is clear. While the pandemic has wrought great tragedy, anguish and destruction, one of the ‘positive’ trends to emerge from this devastation is that it has accelerated the adoption of consumer-based digital health-related devices, gadgets, systems and services particularly for aging populations.
Now is the time for retail channels to explore and deliver products relevant to now – and to create and accelerate the strategic framework and initiatives for an ongoing future. Look around your communities. Digital health opportunities for an aging population abound – whether at retail, via e-commerce or big-box stores, for in-home convenience and functionality, or for integrators who can create healthier smart homes – or on a B2B basis selling to Visiting Angels or to local assisted-living facilities.
People are aging in the comfort of their homes and are looking for consumer-based technology solutions that deliver better health outcomes at reduced costs – while also improving connectivity between themselves and others. Delivering smart digital health solutions that make their lives more comfortable, safe, and enjoyable with the added benefits of instantaneous responsiveness gives their caretakers a peace of mind – and this offers you new business development opportunities and revenue streams. This makes age tech a win–win for everyone!
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