By Mark Miller
CHICAGO, July 11 Getting old? There's an app for
And a smartphone interface. And a tablet device that lets
family members monitor your medication schedule, send text
messages and share photos.
A major new wave of technological innovation is aimed at
helping people stay in their homes as they grow older and
require care. These "age in place" products are coming from
companies ranging from tech mainstays like Samsung Electronics
Co Ltd to much smaller tech startups.
The huge baby boom generation and those that follow will
provide a vast and growing potential market in the years ahead.
The population of Americans older than 75 will hit 33.3 million
in 2030, and 48.4 million by 2050, up from 18.8 million in 2010,
according to the U.S. Administration on Aging. As much as 80
percent of boomers say they want to stay in their home as they
age, according to AARP research.
Laurie M. Orlov, a tech industry analyst, geriatric care
specialist and founder of research firm Aging in Place
Technology Watch, predicts that the market will jump from $2
billion in revenue today to $20 billion or more by 2020.
Won't cognitive decline make technology toys useless for
many seniors in their eighties and beyond? Perhaps - but Orlov
thinks most of the future growth will be in products like remote
health monitoring that will not require mastery from their
users. "Caregiving technology for family members and healthcare
professionals will a big driver," she says.
Not all of these products are aimed directly at seniors. One
of the most impressive innovations that has come to market
lately is found buried inside one of the hottest smartphones on
the market - the Samsung Galaxy S4.
The earlier iteration of this phone - the S3 - already had a
5-inch screen that appealed to older users struggling with poor
eyesight. But the S4 adds an "Easy Mode" that transforms it from
tech geek's delight into a very simple device. The icons are
large and limited to the most-used applications, like the phone
keyboard, text messaging and Web browser.
The design of key applications also is simplified, and it is
easy to set up a screen with a short list of frequently called
contacts (think children and neighbors).
Samsung is not going out of its way to market the S4 to
seniors, says Ryan Bidan, director of product marketing for
Samsung's mobile division. "There's a stigma on something that
is seen as an older person's phone," he says. "People want to be
seen as using the same technology as everyone else."
A TABLET FOR SENIORS
Geof Auchinleck took a different tack when he developed the
Claris Companion, a tablet device launched a month ago that is
specifically designed for seniors living at home who need some
level of care and monitoring.
Auchinleck started his Vancouver, British Columbia-based
company after a 30-year career in the medical device industry.
The idea came to him as he considered the challenges of helping
to support his own mother, who is 92.
"It was hard for me to imagine her using the Internet to get
information on her medications, or to use email ... The design
challenge was how make something that would work for people who
really have no interest in technology."
Auchlinlek is convinced that without change, caring for the
elderly will swamp the healthcare system. "We can't keep putting
older people into institutional care - we can't afford it, and
it's not the right thing to do."
Auchinleck's solution is a tablet device for the home that
displays automatic alerts on its screen, accompanied by a loud
musical chime. When it's time for his mom - who now has a Claris
Companion - to take her medication, a message pops up and the
chime rings. "That stays on until my mom responds, and if it
stays on for four hours, I get a text message telling me
something might be going on."
THE GAME-CHANGER: HEALTH MONITORING
In-home monitoring is the biggest potential game-changer for
seniors, says Robert Herzog, a New York-based digital media
entrepreneur and CEO of eCaring, a healthcare management system
for use by caregivers, health professionals and family members.
The Web-based system allows home care givers and patients to
enter very detailed information on care, health status and
conditions. The system's software can spot changes in vital
signs, eating and toileting patterns and medication regimes, and
send alerts to care managers, physicians, or family members.
"What you don't know can hurt you," he says. "When you hire
an in-home caregiver, you turn the keys over to a stranger and
the door closes and the home is a black box - you have no
information in any meaningful way. That leads to
hospitalizations and rehabs that could have been avoided if the
problems had been detected earlier."