Challenges and Opportunities in Developing Products for Older Adults


Health Tech Forum (http://www.healthtechnologyforum.com/) recently hosted a panel to discuss challenges and opportunities in product development for older adults and marketing challenges in the disparate aging market.  The event was held at Hogan Lovells office in Menlo Park, CA.

Moderator Stephen Johnston, Co-Founder of Aging 2.0, began the session by sharing some eye opening statistics.  Try to guess the percentage of Americans who will be 50+ by 2017.  The answer is at the end of this article.  There were 6M Americans with 85+ years of age, in 2010.  By 2050, there will be 19M.  In 1950, the global median age of Americans was 29.  In 2050, the median age of American population will be 46.  Clearly, older adults represent a growing market; albeit, a disparate market with varying needs.  While some older adults may need help with daily activities like dressing, laundry and eating, others may need help with instrumental activities like housekeeping and managing finances.  While it is a growing market, there are many barriers to innovation in this segment.  First, entrepreneurs need to have empathy and understanding of the needs of the aging and must come up with designs that are appealing to them.  Marketing would be a unique challenge in this fragmented market, which has indirect gage keepers, and multiple decision makers, said Johnston.

Aging 2.0 is a global innovation platform aimed at addressing the needs of the aging market.  The objective is to connect, educate, and support innovators in aging and long term care.  Entrepreneurs in this space are seeking to address such diverse issues as senior living, travel, geriatric care management, remote caregiving, telehealth, new distribution channels, and address health specific issues such as dementia, incontinence, palliative care, and medicine management.

Dr, Leslie Kernisan, a practicing geriatrician and self described “cautious techno-optimist” and “enthusiastic caregiver educator”, talked about the overarching need to improve healthcare.  Additionally, there are specific and changing needs of the aging population.  Some of them are “old old” and others are “young old”, who may be in their 70s and may be very healthy and active.  Purpose of healthcare is to maintain wellbeing, maintain ability to participate in life activities, prevent daily health complications, prevent or keep the chronic disease from worsening, and avert catastrophic events, said Kernisan.

Richard Levinson, Founder and CEO of BrainAid, shared about BrainAid’s PEAT device that provides cognitive assistance for independent living, by helping cue and schedule tasks, meetings, medicines etc.  Normally the brain helps in three critical functions, said Levinson; to assess, plan and execute.  With brain injury or impairment, sometimes it gets locked into execution mode and a person may keep reacting but lacks the ability to assess and plan in order to appropriately execute the function.  This makes them unable to manage daily activities.  Unlike other devices that may assist with scheduling etc., PEAT has inbuilt flexibility to re-plan and update the schedule data when changes occur.  Life is not static and taking the dynamic aspect of everyday living, the PEAT system schedules changes, adds activities, reschedules tasks and notes and accounts completed or skipped tasks.  BrainAid is also working on integrating the technology with other sensor based, wearable devices including Pebble Watch and Google Glass, said Levinson.

Iggy Fanlo, Co-Founder and CEO of MyLively, talked about their patented product, the lively hub with activity sensors that log a person’s daily routine.  This comes with no annoying gadgets to wear and there are no intrusive video cameras.  The sleek design of the lively hub makes it seem less like a monitoring device and more like some cool new technology.  The tiny sensors can be kept in various places of significance.  For instance, a sensor on a pillbox can keep track of an individual taking the medication at appropriate time, another one can be attached to the fridge, and yet another one can be attached to the keychain to measure the time spent outside the home.  The easy to install Lively hub receives activity signals from each of the sensors to compare daily events with normal routines and healthy preferences.  Lively can share activity patterns through a secure computer or a tablet or through a smart phone.   Fanlo said, many people as they age, fiercely seek to remain independent but often miss social connections.   Lively comes with an additional feature called the LivelyGram.  Twice a month, Lively automatically compiles and publishes a personalized printed LivelyGram (through pictures and messages shared on computer or smartphone or social network site) and delivers this personalized printed document through the postal mail.  This is something that is perfect for non internet users; a population that may be even more lonely, and this may give them something to feel connected, something to hold in their hand, and something to talk about.

So what percentage of Americans will be 50+ by 2017?  A staggering 50% of us will be over the age of 50, in USA, in about 3 years.  Every single day, life expectancy increases by 5 hours.  Yes, every day!!

This was a great event that drew a huge participation from entrepreneurs, software developers, gerontologists, geriatricians, and others.  The panel generated many excellent questions and comments from the audience and participants continued the discussion after the event, in informal networking.

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