Aging in Place is the ability to live in one's own home - wherever that might be - for as long, as confidently and comfortably possible. Livability can be extended through the incorporation of universal design principles, telehealth, mhealth and other assistive technologies.
Older adults worry about losing the social aspects of in-person transactions. In the small but compelling study from the UK, titled appropriately 'The Wisdom of Older Technology (Non) Users', several cited valid concerns: fear of getting things wrong, the burden to become an ‘expert’ (as with use of product comparison websites), security concerns (like Equifax), and a legitimate worry that online shopping takes business away from local shops. There is plenty of media mention about social isolation and health of older adults these days, and suggestions about ways to mitigate the issue, generally suggesting visits or calls. the direct relationship between technology and mitigating social isolation still seems tenuous. In fact, for young people, tools like Facebook may worsen the problem.
What’s to be done about boosting in-person interactions – supported by technology? The key insight from the UK study? Older people want to connect with others – and clearly, the other studies show that it doesn’t occur enough. Secondarily, the role of technology (if present at all) is to help people find ways to connect. Imagine a scenario in which a group of older adults attend a regularly scheduled event, whether it is a senior center that offers lunch, a lecture or concert series in an area populated by older adults, a ride service that brings older adults to medical appointments, a home care company that has multiple clients in the same age range and status, a local college with a life-long learning program of afternoon classes. Or a neighborhood watch program that notes who is stranded by their geography, whether it is warm or icy. Or a high school program that volunteers with local seniors for credit – and a new career path. Through each of these examples, technology access can be a persistent side effect.
Technology and tech-enabled services matter for older adults. The marketplace for technology to assist aging adults in the Longevity Economy is expected to grow to more than $30 billion in the next few years, according to the updated report by Aging in Place Technology Watch, more likely to be based on customization of standard software, using existing platforms than creation of senior-specific products. The report provides predictions about key technology trends for 2018 and beyond. Families, caregivers, and seniors will acquire new tech-enabled services that improve the quality of their lives. The 100-million-strong 50+ market is increasingly aware of technology alternatives and providers know it:
Voice-first interfaces will dominate apps and devices. We are still downloading apps, but that era may end. Instead we will be experimenting with personal assistants or AI-enabled voice first technologies (Siri, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Cortana) which can act as mini service provider interfaces – find an appointment, a ride, song, a restaurant, a hotel, an airplane seat. Technology survivors may be voice-inappropriate tools for social networking, mapping, camera, and news. And there is a continuing wave of behavior modification apps, which currently seem to come and go with the tides of marketing hype – stop smoking, get moving, avoid too much sun, drink more water. Maybe your doctor will prescribe an app – many Silicon Valley startups folk believe (or hope) this will happen – but doctors are not quite convinced.
Internet of Things (IoT) replaces sensor-based categories. The sensor-based home monitoring market that crested in 2008 was an early example of the possibilities that evolved later. Nearly a decade later, small sensors and tags, as well as the hubs that can detect and monitor them are becoming mainstream. This Internet of (smarter) Things, or IoT, encompasses tags to help find things, smart devices like wall plugs, thermostats, light bulbs, and even pet feeders. These can be managed through configurable home hubs from Google, Amazon or Samsung. These voice-first hubs compete to be their own home (and car) control ecosystems.
Niche hardware will fade away – long live software and training. In 2017, will senior-focused hardware survive accelerating technology change? Yes, if it mitigates a health-related condition (hearing, dexterity or vision loss). Otherwise, we will see software that will make hardware platform choices hidden or irrelevant. Will senior phones and tablets survive the voice-first and software-primarily wave? Or will seniors choose custom or assistive configurations on a standard phone or tablet? And will tablets (even ones for seniors) be swept aside by ever-larger smartphones? Some will buy specialty devices meant for ease-of-use, but most seniors will be trained to use standard tablets or more likely learn about their smartphones in the store classes or at workshops for standard off-the-shelf products.
"Health Tech" doesn't replace "Digital Health" barely acknowledges aging. In a recent MobiHealth News webinar, founder Brian Dolan observed that Digital Health as a category was being replaced in 2016 and beyond with the term Health Tech – but that didn't actually happen. The dream of reimbursement for the category, especially remote monitoring, persists as the way to replace institutional technology (and budgets) for hospital/health systems, medical practices, and related IT departments. There is still ambiguity between categories of 'digital health' and so-called Personal Connected Health (including some mention of older adults) when summit titles are coined.
Robotics and virtual reality will continue – as experiments. The press loves to write about robots and seniors. Still at the anecdote stage, widespread use of care-related robots in the home or in senior living communities has not happened and is not expected for years. Instead, robotic pets are growing in popularity in senior communities and private homes – no care and feeding required, plus the possibility of providing comfort to seniors who feel isolated or may have dementia. During 2017, more senior living communities also experimented with virtual reality.
What percent of exhibitors at trade shows survive? Rant on. It’s not possible to speculate because it is not tracked. That probably is fine for that gaggle of gadgetry at CES – most acting as trial balloons to test PR-worthiness and buzz. But what about events whose trade shows are of one-off products or services intended to help older adults? Some events will not allow a small-sponsorship company to be on the show floor, literally placing them in a corner. Consider: Company B is a startup, not yet a member of a national association. The founder of Company B, CEO B has been too busy inventing a product to line up complementary offerings that could be sold as a solution to a problem. None of the bigger resellers know anything about Company B yet, so the tiny firm takes the corner booth and hopes that on breaks, walking around the floor will generate a business partner or two -- and with serendipity, enable Company B to be part of the solution ABC.
What’s wrong with the serendipitous approach? Did you ever wonder why you don’t see exhibit hall listings left online to peruse months after the last show? The booth check has been cashed. The exhibitors came, they saw the attendees and other exhibitors, then they departed, never to be heard of again. Remember Silver Mother? The company never figured out how to market a useful sensor-based home monitoring product and now the website says it is ‘out of stock.’ The Floh Club’s tech support for seniors – lasted from 2009 into 2010. WellCore – consumers will pick up their fall detectors at Best Buy – or maybe not. In all of these cases, detailed market research in advance was unlikely. The inventor had invented – that was enough. The market was not ready for smart homes in 2016. Telephone tech support services for seniors depended on more complex senior tech adoption than had occurred by 2010. And fall detection was a feature of PERS offerings – not a standalone consumer sales hit. We could go on and mention more of the 90% of companies that fail, just in the senior category, but enough said.
The Internet has made pre-launch market research so much easier – why not do it? Is it ego? Our mousetrap is better? Our engineer is smarter? Oh, we were a beloved startup during Amazon’s innovation searches – so we will be acquired by Amazon. Yeah, right, that can happen, but more likely, our product will be cloned and forced right out of its market by Amazon. What would be a more useful strategy in the first place, other than a good lawyer at startup time – “You’re going to demo that where?” For the one-off gadget and service world, taking the time and the effort to identify 3 or 4 previous or current similar products or services is worth the time -- no need to forge the partnership right away, but know who the partners could be.
Map out the full surround of the desired market. Place the proposed startup on a chart that includes innovator track record, solution or possible go-to-market partners, reseller partners, implementation successes, especially B2B, trade show presence, media articles, multi-stage investment amounts and sources, and exits if any. Making the chart is cheap. And the chart is an argument for go/no-go decisions – up front or later -- with a supportive but objective board. Deciding not to proceed can be the best strategy of all. And if all else fails, follow any of the plethora of advice on shutting down. Do not, please, just disappear like the Cheshire Cat smile – or the Floh Club, where only the press articles and blog posts remain. RANT OFF.
A year later – time for revision to the Market Overview of Technology for Aging in Place. This annually-updated report will be reviewed during the next few weeks for what has changed; what no longer matters; and what firms, including startups, may matter over the next year to the older adult market segments. If you have thoughts – please bring them forward about any new offerings in the categories of communication and engagement, home safety and security, health and wellness, learning and contribution, dementia care, home care, and caregiving apps. And if you think categories are missing or no longer matter, please speak up!
What makes Voice First special for older adults? This blog has discussed the emergence of Voice First technology -- speech-enabled interactions with technology -- on multiple occasions. But this occasion is different -- it marks the publication of a research effort and resulting report linked here called The Future of Voice First Technology and Older Adults 2018. Today's blog post offers a short excerpt of key differences between Voice First technology and prior tech generations that apply to all users – but are unique for seniors -- future research will continue to explore that uniqueness. So what has inspired multiple organizations, including Benchmark Senior Living and Carlsbad by the Sea, to begin their programs? They see that while Voice First technology is an early market with some (noted) limitations, it also represents, unlike prior technology generations, benefits for users. For users and tech managers, Voice First is:
Easy: Download versions and upgrades are unnecessary. Patch Tuesday for Microsoft users or iOS update reminders are likely not part of the older adult user experience. But the Amazon Echo Show speaks what needs to happen next after the device is powered on, presenting suggestions and tips in large font. A caveat, however – as the Front Porch users discovered, without any prior technology exposure, some training is required, especially to use features to control lights and room temperature.
Cheap: Device price war put offering within reach – but is there Wi-Fi? The Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini are racing for the bottom of Voice First device price ranges. But they work just as well when spoken to as the largest and most expensive variant. However, Wi-Fi connectivity is a prerequisite – and not a given in many senior communities or private homes.
Useful: Content can both surprise and impress. Information behind these devices is a constant surprise and delighter. Jokes and weather, but also: streaming music, audio stories, and news. For the tech-phobic, these interactions represent a disruptive change and an experiential upgrade. Cooking timers, alarms and reminders – “It’s 4:00, Did you take your medication?” are part of the basic features. Note these are not interactions, and other than ‘Stop’, do not yet address what happens if you didn’t comply.
Smart: Last week’s functionality can be forgotten. While not the first cloud-based capability, voice first technologies’ update cycles craft a new user experience. Growing in use, the devices and software increasingly know who you are and can tell you what’s new; remind how functions work; and can be queried and/or trained repeatedly about the same feature – simply by speaking a question. For example, “Alexa, what do you know?” Or “Hey Google, how do I play music?”
Connected: Home automation just works. For the Front Porch participants at Carlsbad by the Sea, the home automation integration was itself a surprising benefit – learning to control the thermostat, connected light bulbs and outdoor camera. The pilot participants marveled that they could turn on lights, change the room temperature and see who was at the door – all without leaving their chairs.
Here is a hope that you will read the research report which was based on 31 interviews with stakeholders and innovators -- and if you can, also come to the What's Next Boomer Summit in San Francisco on March 28th to hear a thought leader panel discussion of the topic and more about what's next with Voice First.
It’s a piloting world for new voice technology in senior living and care. But some senior living and service provider companies are experimenting and using for differentiation. As the Front Porch report and other examples have demonstrated, use of Voice First technologies can engage residents, improve concierge services, reduce unnecessary trips down long hallways for check-ins, enable some home automation actions for turning on lights, managing a thermostat or monitoring entrances.
AARP Foundation and Senior Living.The AARP Foundation recently piloted a program with a senior living facility in the Baltimore area to test whether voice-controlled technologies like the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo can help curb isolation and its associated health effects in seniors. The organization worked with Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc., to place Amazon Echo devices in its senior living communities, teaching them how to communicate voice commands to Alexa for everything from turning the lights on and off, medication reminders, and getting news and weather reports. Learn more at Associated.org.
Amazon could take on Home Care.As Amazon looks to possibly capture some of the market share in the pharmacy space, home care providers are keeping watch on the company for other reasons. Coupled with its home-based voice technology, Amazon’s Echo product could easily be paired with home health and home care services to fulfill a number of responsibilities for seniors needing care. And some home care and home health providers are already actively exploring these options, including California-based Libertana Home Health, which tapped Amazon’s Alexa for a pilot study with some of its clients. Learn more at Libertana Home Health.Bottom of Form
Juniper Saves Money Retains Staff. Products like the Amazon Echo have already made their way into senior living settings, allowing residents to hear the dinner menu or get medication reminders simply by asking for them. But voice recognition also holds promise for making clinicians’ lives easier, while enabling senior living companies to cut costs and improve retention. least, Juniper Communities believes this to be true, based on initial results from a technology pilot with a startup called LexiconAI. Learn more at Juniper Communities.
HoneyCo Smart Home for Seniors.Stringing together an array of smart devices into a home is no easy task for even a moderately tech-savvy individual -- let alone someone enjoying their retirement. HoneyCo, based in Nashville, offers a one-stop shop for the smart home, taking products off the shelf and corralling them into a single, easy-to-use software platform. HoneyCo charges a monthly fee to manage the service. Learn more at HoneyCo Homes.
Social isolation has grown for the older and/or less tech-savvy segments. This has been a result of tech replacements that are more difficult to use, whether it is the cost of Wi-Fi connection, excessive device screen sensitivity, screen size, the continuous need for OS upgrades or software updates, many of them security-related as hacker threats grow. Older adults and those who care about them examine this landscape and wonder what can be done because:
Cost is too high versus the benefit of technology improvement. Most people replace their smartphones after 2-3 years – even though the phone life is more like 4.7 years for smartphones and feature phones. But 24 million clamshell (flip) phones sold in 2016, 2 million more than in 2015 – while seniors make up a big percentage of users, others like, $20 price tag, superior telephone call form factor and the long battery life – in contrast to the $800+ smartphone, need for a headset, and daily, if not more frequent, charging requirement.
Tech-enabled threats drive fear and more updates. Tracking malware has become a business unto itself – one fifth of devices breached and 1.5 million new incidents detected in just one quarter in 2017. In fact, a quarter of those device owners did not even know that their device had been under attack.Often the malware is embedded in ads inside publications older adults trust – an email attachment inadvertently sent by someone they know or in a website they trust.
So what is the solution to help the older population stay better connected?
Tech with applicability in the older adult market. The Digital Health event is also covered in detail through MobiliHealth news and few of those announcements, not even counting the plethora of tech that addresses diabetes and brain health, could specifically benefit older adults. And more expert and more detailed (and analytical writing) about new tech at CES reveals a few more offerings that could be useful for older adults if applied to that market. Here are five – more when there’s more:
Invoxia portable Alexa speaker. "Here’s an example of filling a hole in Amazon’s own product line. It is just a battery powered speaker with embedded Alexa. Triby features voice control with Amazon Alexa and is a smart portable speaker, Internet radio, hands-free speakerphone, and connected message board all rolled into one! Use the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, get the news, set alarms, control smart home devices, and more using just your voice. Just say the wake word "Alexa" and Triby responds instantly." Learn more at CNET.
Lenovo Smart Display. "The Lenovo Smart Device, intended to compete with the Echo Show, the interface design is different to that of a phone, however. Everything is larger, bolder, pared down without the ultra-detail that you'll find from Google Assistant on a phone. This is to keep things simple, to typically keep your hands off the device - although the touchscreen is perfectly usable - and help focus, including playing music, making calls, recognizing different voices." Learn more at Pocket-Lint.
MobileHelp and Samsung GearWatch. "MobileHelp, a maker of home and wearable medical alert devices, also announced a new partnership with Samsung to bring its emergency response capabilities to Gear smartwatches. Called MobileHelp Smart, the devices integrate MobileHelp’s platform into a modified version of Samsung’s watch, taking advantage of its fitness-monitoring features, GPS, and cell capabilities." Learn more at Research Park.
ADT Health. "ADT, Reemo Health and Samsung have teamed together to provide customers with wellness data, connectivity and an ADT professionally-monitored personal emergency response system (PERS) on the stylish Samsung Gear S2 and S3 Gear smartwatches. Gone is the stigma from pendants and wristbands, users can proudly wear their PERS device with confidence, knowing that help is a simple tap away to a live two-way voice assistance with a specially-trained ADT agent directly from the watch’s speaker. Gear S2 or S3 can also track fitness trends, including steps and heart rate, encouraging seniors to stay active. The collaboration allows ADT to provide seniors, their families and caregivers, peace of mind and better visibility to their health, enabling them to actively manage their own wellness, maintain an independent lifestyle and access help anytime, if needed." Learn more at the CES overview from ADT.
Corti. "Corti is an example of how AI can augment, not supplant, human healthcare workers. The AI runs in the background of an emergency dispatch call, analyzing not only the caller's words but also background noises that might include the victim's breathing patterns. It culls that information for indicators that someone is suffering from cardiac arrest, then prompts the dispatcher to ask questions or walk the callers through activities like CPR that could stabilize the patient until the ambulance arrives." Learn more at MobiHealthNews.
How will this gaggle of goods work for older adults – or anyone? One might wonder, as The Verge does – is technology today built on incorrect assumptions about the tech capability of the user? For example, check out the steps to set up the Echo. Sure, it is a useful device for older adults, but that assumes that after plugging it in, the user has access to the app, the Wifi password, and the Amazon account password. That’s for starters. What about accessing services like Internet radio, requesting rides, listening to books, speaking with family or setting reminders?. Read the Front Porch pilot report to see the scope of training needs and opportunity.
As always, CES will have announcements and products that will become popular immediately or hopefully evolve into something useful. Anyway, here are five new technologies from CES 2018 intended for (maybe) or can offer service/support for older adults (all info is drawn from media or sites):
IQBuds. "A set of wireless earbuds ($200) that create a custom listening profile by evaluating the user's hearing. The device uses an app called Ear ID to do just that, calibrating the earbuds automatically to tailor them to each person. Nuheara says the app offers a hearing test you'd usually have to visit an audiologist to get. Of course, that personalization will also help users who can hear just fine but want a more custom sound from their earbuds. The customization extended to the touch controls on the outside of the earbuds as well." Learn more at Nuheara.
Woohoo. "Set for its global release in Q1 2018, WooHoo is positioned as "a tool through which families can care for both elderly parents and children through an interactive and intuitive interface," said SmartBeings co-founder and chief strategy officer Himanshu Kaul. "Through such features as gesture control, motion-and-fall detection, a smart camera with facial recognition, NLP-based voice commands, and audio/video conferencing, every home and office can now connect and control every device through our Artificial Intelligence Platform and mobile app." Learn More at SmartBeings.
Buddy. "Buddy is another robot that's been with us for a couple of years in some form or another, but it's on show at CES 2018 in its latest incarnation. From French robotics firm Blue Frog, Buddy is designed as a robot that can keep up a conversation with anyone in your family, monitor your home, play music and videos, and more besides. Think of it kind of like an Amazon Echo with a face and wheels, though there's no Alexa on board here. It's particularly good for playing with kids or keeping an eye on elderly parents, but like a lot of CES kit, you can't actually buy Buddy right now. Its makers say preorders for the robot assistant will be open again soon." Learn more at BlueFrog Robotics.
Cutii. "Our vocal and facial recognition robot, named Cutii, provides elders with access to a full catalog of activities and services.” Cutii responds to verbal cues to offer users a catalog of services and activities. It can’t assist with day-to-day tasks like cooking and doing the dishes, but can schedule and coordinate enrichment and well-being activities like contacting family members, arranging doctor’s appointments, and signing up for fitness classes. The robot can be controlled manually with a remote or it can be left to navigate autonomously around the home." Learn more at Digital Trends.
EZVIZ. "Home security camera maker EZVIZ announced its first product for smart entry security at CES 2018 today, with the debut of the Lookout Smart Door Viewer. The system is designed to work with the company’s new ezGuard security camera, as well as with other EZVIZ products and Amazon Alexa. What makes the system more interesting than the usual smart entry solution is how it takes advantage of facial recognition. Using the EZVIZ app, homeowners can opt to create a gallery of trusted people who can gain access to the home. It does this by utilizing facial recognition technology to identify the person at the door automatically, allowing the homeowner to act as they see fit to allow entry." Learn more at TechCrunch.
2017 was an interesting year -- 2018 should overcome a few obstacles. Probably the most significant innovation during 2017 was the growth of the Voice First technology market -- but judging by the aisles of gadgets in places like Best Buy, everything else is changing as well. CES is next week, and with it more speakers, TVs, and gadgetry than is seen in Best Buy or anywhere else during the year. But even as technology leapfrogs and crawls forward, obstacles to broad adoption for older adults remain. Hopefully interest in mitigating social isolation among older adults will lead to the role technology could play. But to make a real difference, here's a look at five areas for improvement in 2018:
Car user interfaces – baffling or ignored. Like much of the technology we encounter, car user interfaces have evolved because it was possible to add features to them. Were these requested – or invented because they were possible and turn out to be a distraction? (Hint: it’s been a bad case of the latter.) So what to do if baffled by the latest and greatest? Be one of those who keeps the car the longest: “Vehicles 16 years and older are expected to grow 30 percent from 62 million units today to 81 million in 2021.” And the people driving? Consumer reports notes that they might behind the wheel substantially longer than their ability to drive. Considering feature creep and advancing age of the oldest drivers, this conundrum will worsen in 2018.
Home automation -- is it useful for older adults? In conjunction with Voice First technology, there are unforeseen benefits -- as outlined in a recent report from Front Porch -- which could be deployed in other senior living communities as well as private homes. It may be that other smart home trends that surface next week at CES could be applied in senior settings. And it could also be that 2018 is the year of smart(er) appliances, robots and even wearables -- which join the trend of Voice First in the home.