Wearables for Seniors: The untapped opportunity

When thinking of wearables, we envisage it as a technology mostly aimed at millennials and not at older adults. Wearable devices have somehow massive potential for seniors. Georgia Tech’s home lab, in partnership with the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP surveyed 92 consumers aged 50-plus. They provided them with one of the seven most popular wearable devices and analyzed their feedback following a six weeks test period. This study aimed to define what features would be considered useful by older adults. Seventy-seven percent of the participants thought activity trackers and sleep trackers to be helpful. Forty-two percent of them said they intended to continue using wearable technology in the future. Even though 67 percent found the devices as beneficial, nearly half of the 70+ users stopped using the device within 14 days and complained about comfort and the difficulty of setting it up.

One size doesn’t suit all: Segment to succeed.

The older the participants and the more complex the fitness trackers are perceived. It emphasizes the fact that the “Silver Market” is not homogeneous. Products and services should always be segmented. Aging is multidimensional, and chronological age, although important, is not enough to segment the market.

Western societies tend to glorify youth and see the aged population as not worth the effort of designing a specific product that will fit their needs. There is a good reason for that. Most of the technological products are designed by bright minds mostly in their twenties or thirties. Ageism in Silicon Valley starts at 35 years old. By 2050, one-quarter of the world will be over 60. It is a lot of potential customers who not only are tech-savvy but also have specific needs, have the money to fulfill them and are usually brand loyal. Not targetting the technology elderly market is basically closing the door to $84 billion in annual spending.

For smart devices to be adopted by the elderly community, it is critically important first to identify the needs that will drive adoption. We can divide them into three main categories:

  • AGING HEALTHY,
  • PRESERVING AUTONOMY,
  • STAYING SAFE

Wearables for the elderly is not a homogeneous bucket where all of the 50+ can be thrown in. Products should be designed to provide answers to specific needs, such as fall detection, health monitoring, fitness tracking and not be based on the age of the user.

Medical Smartwatches as a driver of autonomy

According to the National Council on Aging, 80 percent of adults 65 and older suffer from at least one chronic condition, and 68 percent have two or more. Hypertension and High Cholesterol being to two main ones. Medical alert buttons are useful in case of an emergency. They somehow have a big issue: Nobody uses them! Between 20% to 80% of the elderly either refuse or forget to wear their medical alert buttons, considered as bulky and stigmatizing. To check the vital signs, heart rate or just to detect falls, medical smartwatches can be an ideal solution. Family members or emergency contacts receive alerts in real-time in case of adverse events.

Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among the 65+ population. Every 11 seconds, an elderly is treated for a fall, and every 19 minutes, one dies from it. The Apple watch series five fall detection can even call 911 and request for assistance automatically. Annually, Medicare or Medicaid pays close to $40 billion following falls among an increasingly active aging population. Digital health adoption is not only a way to reduce these costs but could also contribute to improving the mental state of the carers, families, and older adults themselves.

Manini et al. recently published an analysis of the perception of older adults toward smartwatch technology. Their results are consistent with the results of Lee et al. Ten factors appear to affect how older adults will adopt technology: Perceived value, usability, affordability, accessibility, technical support, social support, emotion, independence, experience, and confidence.

In a nutshell, to be smoothly adopted by the elderly, technology should be USEFUL, CONVENIENT, IRREPLACEABLE, and CREDIBLE. These key factors are consistent with the Technology Acceptance Model initially introduced more than 30 years ago by Davies et al.

For the elderly, less is more

To reach their full potential and wide acceptance, these technologies must be useful and easy to use. Contrary to younger generations, for older adults, less is more! Digital health should adapt to the needs and capabilities of its users. No need for a fancy smartphone app. As long as the product looks attractive, is easy to use, and works flawlessly, the adoption rate will surge.

Technology companies have fallen in what we call the “Swiss army knife Syndrome”. For older adults, they should go back to the basics and concentrate on providing elegant and reliable wearables. Technology should be the cherry on the pie and not the cake itself.

Living Longer and Healthier

Philips et al. conducted a study of the potential benefits of activity trackers on chronic diseases. Physical activity is very beneficial for individuals with chronic conditions. It also enhances mental health and contributes to healthy aging. By unobtrusively collecting data, wearables have the potential for changing the behavior of the sedentary elderly population.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, adults who exercise regularly save $2,500 a year in medical costs. In the United States, 80% of adults do not meet the government’s national activity recommendations. Sedentary lifestyles account for approximately $24 billion a year in medical spending.

For older adults, fitness trackers are a way to monitor their daily activities. By inviting them to be more active, they will ultimately live longer and healthier.

The SMART aging revolution

With an ever-increasing number of senior adults and a consistent shortage of carers, the digitization of healthcare, telehealth, and Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) are ways to drive home care adoption. Wearable medical devices provide physicians with efficient new ways to monitor the patients.

Seventy percent of the elderly wish to stay at home for as long as possible. Houses are becoming smart: Smart pillboxes, smart clothing and textiles, smart mattresses and even voice assistants that monitor the elders’health.

Wearable health technologies have to be reliable. They have to concentrate not only on the users but also on the needs of the providers of remote care. In 2019, the FDA cleared five wearables devices opening the way to a new generation of remote medical technologies.

Digital health and wearable technologies are a major opportunity to transform healthcare for older adults and unlock a tremendous number of innovations. Patients, Payers and healthcare professionals can all benefit from this transformation of healthcare from reactive to proactive. The healthcare wearables market will reach $60 Billion by 2023 including $20 billion for health trackers and RPM and $40 billion for connected hearing aids. Wearables and the elderly is still a widely untapped opportunity. Now is the perfect time to developed new devices and to start addressing a market of 2 billion potential users.



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