How & Why Eldertech is Getting a Much-Needed Facelift
Eldertech is an umbrella term covering longevity healthcare, homecare, aging in place, and older adult activity. For such a massive opportunity, eldertech innovation has largely been neglected.
The average human lifespan has just about doubled over the last century. The average American born today can expect to live to about 80. Granted, this lifespan doubling has to do with both an extension of life for older populations as well as a reduction in infant mortality. Still, we have more people now, and they're living longer.
Today’s entrepreneurs are wising up to the opportunity tomorrow. There are plenty of challenges for them to solve:
- The stresses brought about by the pandemic brought the limitations of current facilities and lack of resources to the forefront.
- Further, shifting career trends (Amazon, gig economy, etc) are making a staffing shortage even worse for this increasingly understaffed sector.
- This larger population of older adults also comes with a new basket of lifestyle preferences.
The following article explores how and why the eldertech industry is getting a much-needed flood of attention.
Younger Generations are Changing “What It Means to Be Old”
Each generation pushed an evolution and departure from the prior generation’s blueprint of society. Our current elders’ rejection of their status quo was embodied in various trends and unconventional lifestyles, such as the Beatniks in the late 1950s, counterculture movements in the 1960s into the 1980s.
Then in their mid-twenties, thirties, and forties, today’s elders enjoyed distinct luxuries born out of a booming post-war economy and the cultural catalyst of radio and multimedia. The “Turn on, tune in, drop out” archetypes steered away from society’s more rigid aspects.
Not to assume everyone was a counterculture stereotype, hopping in vans and going to music festivals for a decade; but the motivation to live life on their terms was more within reach than ever before for the average American.
The Boomer and X-Gen generations were distinctly different from their predecessors, who faced the atrocities of two World Wars, a Great Depression, and multiple pandemics head-on.
Our current and future generations of older Americans have a much higher bar for agency in their lives and agency in aging.
Agency in aging comes down to how scalable that agency is.
Prior to the proliferation of tech in the last two decades, agency in aging was largely a function of human resources. Today, tech can fill in the gaps where humans aren’t necessarily needed, creating more autonomy and agency in the process. Many of the same solutions applied to a consumer-tech market that skews young are just as applicable to older populations.
A Changing of Consumer Behavior
One of the more positive accelerations catalyzed by the pandemic was a changing of consumer behavior among older consumers.
Older populations have historically been neglected by the plethora of consumer tech innovations. Founders and investors viewed the elder customer profile prohibitively challenging or inaccessible due to a hypothesized unwillingness to use tech.
But, under the circumstances of a pandemic, being on the Internet became what Bloomberg calls the “New Normal” for many older adults. Tech among older adults skyrocketed in a national stay-at-home scenario, and it’s not slowing down. The annual spending on tech by the 50+ category nearly tripled from $394 to $1144 in 2021, with the top three purchases being smartphones, smart TVs, and headsets.
Today's older populations are welcomed into a consumer-tech industry that has cumulatively spent billions of dollars on tweaking UI/UX just to make apps more convenient and increase product usage metrics. Without needing to surmount the peak of increasing tech literacy, the business economics for eldertech startups are much more appealing, which will lead to a boom in innovation and investment in this sector.
Sometimes The Most Direct Way to Make an Impact Isn’t Direct
The greatest opportunities in eldertech are in solving problems for surrounding stakeholders, such as the needs of caregivers.
Caregiving, as a profession, is heading towards dire straits. Staffing shortages rage as one of the nation’s largest generation demographics ages into the need for greater care.
Further, the evolving professional landscape is presenting would-be caregivers with new opportunities, such as working at Amazon or in the gig-economy of Uber, DoorDash, and so on.
Caregiver burnout is a significant issue in both paid and unpaid positions. This burnout may take form in physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, that may subsequently lead to changes in attitude and ability to perform, further compounding the negatives.
However, in a tech-enabled environment, caregiver burnout can be monitored, managed, and perhaps even remedied, and caregivers can be given the recognition they deserve.
For example, the data generated by the Sage suite of products enables facilities to get a comprehensive understanding of caregiver workloads and reward top-performers. By helping those who help, we can build a better caregiving profession, fortified against external forces.
Final Thoughts: Age is Just a Number
Ironically, the eldertech industry is still very young.
Tech entrepreneurship might skew young today; but many of its innovators are getting older. The challenges of our grandparents soon become the challenges of our parents, and if we’re lucky, they’ll soon become our own. As aging becomes more personal among the tech startup crowd, building for an older generation with the same gusto as building for a younger generation becomes increasingly more attractive.
We’ve spent a disproportionate amount of resources innovating for the first half of one’s life, and largely viewed the remainder as an afterthought, and that’s going to change very soon.