Revisiting Ten Aging in Place Trends

By Brian Dolan
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By Laurie Orlov, Founder, Aging In Place Technology Watch

It's been more than 6 months since this blog post about tech trends that would influence product capability in 2010.  It seems fitting to check status on what's happened so far, with another status check planned just prior to the new year:

1. Location-aware tech enables more info, greater safety. GPS became even more useful in 2009. Verizon replaced its Chaperone service with Family Locator, The Alzheimer's Association introduced its ComfortZone (powered by OmniLink), several other tracking technology vendors launched, and location-based mapping and direction technologies, 2009 was a good GPS-enabled year.

UPDATE: MobileHelp, ActiveCareGPSMed, and Qualcomm/AMAC entered, found resellers or launched initiatives -- but it is still early -- this trend may fizzle in favor of usable cell phones with GPS tracking and senior-appropriate call centers (today the Jitterbug J sends location with 911 calls).

2. Home automation technology vendors see possibilities. Just as home remodelers see possibilities in aging-in-place retrofits (70% of NAHB builders in 2009), in a bad economy, home automation vendors also saw possibilities in the market.

UPDATE: Caregiver Systems by HomeControlsCloseBy Networks tailor home automation systems for seniors -- other vendors are in process of launching systems -- more on the way.

3. Mobile health app possibilities grow. Mobile web usage during 2009 got a growth spurt from boomers and seniors -- and spawned new apps like LiveNurse from Jitterbug. According to Gartner, mobile health applications (along with location-based apps) are in the top 10 application growth areas for consumers.

UPDATE: Explosive interest receiving a boost from smart phone growth (see gazillion iPhone health apps) and interest from healthcare providers. However, as for senior participation in mobile health apps, there is an adoption gap.

4. Virtual doctors' visits and other health innovations. A quiet revolution is happening in health care delivery, from shared doctor visits, the video doctor 'virtual visit', and health care without the doctor -- tracking and transmission of self-test results -- like blood coagulation levels. And this is before passage of any health care bill! Memorable from the NY Times article: "The only constant is change and resistance to change."

UPDATE: This one is inching along, depends on two factors: the first is  reimbursement and insurance enthusiasm, underway in this NY State example. And doctors have to want to participate -- apparently, 40% of them now do.

5. Touch screens and eReaders. Touch screens became ubiquitous during 2009 for product demonstration computers used to demo software -- like the Asus EEE, for example. And eReaders -- particularly well-suited to the boomer/senior population saw the impressive Sony with touch screen as alternative to the Kindle.

UPDATE: No need to belabor the eReaders, which have become quite popular, along with the eReader capabilities in the ever-so-famous iPad and the downloadable free eReaders. Maybe the swipable iPad, iPhone, etc. have made the touch screen an expected feature in tablets and phones -- touchscreen shipments, no kidding, are expected to increase by 5000% by the end of this year.

6. Big companies invest in monitoring and telehealth technologies. Let's reflect on GE and its acquisition of QuietCare, Intel and its $250 million partnership with GE, and Bosch (VitelNet), all added to Philips (read this backgrounder) as big firms intent on roles in the aging/health monitoring arena -- limited impact in 2009, but validation of market importance in 2010.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, the pace of change for the large enterprises is slow and I am aware of just limited progress -- Philips launched Think Tanks on livable cities, health and well-being in the past 6 months; Intel and GE launched a study; and remote health monitoring growth is still restrained by reimbursement.

7. Broadband access and Internet use among seniors grows. According to Forrester's research, 63% of 64-73-year-olds are online at least monthly. And Nielsen noted that 6 million more seniors are online today than five years ago -- most likely because their broadband adoption has grown from 19% to 30% in the past year.

UPDATE: Unimpressive. Broadband adoption of seniors dropped to 26% -- maybe cost in a tough economy was a factor. Thirty-eight percent are online -- there will be a growing number of alternatives to having your own broadband connection in the home for accessing the Internet (community, senior centers, libraries) and smart phone adoption among the soon-to-be-senior boomers.

8. Caregiver portals and tools blossom. 2009 saw the merger of Caring.com and Gilbert Guide, forging the market's first million-views-per-month usage profile. As I once heard Jerry Shereshewsky, CEO of Grandparents.com, say: that's the minimum level of usage in which advertisers take notice. In addition, many have jumped into the Caregiving space and will launch in 2010 -- shared caregiver communication, health monitoring, and more.

UPDATE: More caregiving tools have emerged, reason enough to add vendors and commentary to the July Market Overview update. This space (for home care, home health professionals and family caregivers) is at the beginning of a significant growth period, paralleling the aging population, decline of nursing homes and stagnation of assisted living growth. Meanwhile, Grandparents.com was acquired, Jeffrey Mahl is now CEO.

9.  Personal emergency response systems get a makeover. In 2009, we saw the emergence of Halo Monitoring's fall detection chest strap and belt clip, mobile PERS entrant, Medical Mobile Monitoring, and then reflect on Jitterbug's acquisition in the Mobile PERS arena.

UPDATE: See 1 above. Not much change otherwise. In the traditional PERS category, Philips added Lifeline with AutoAlert for fall detection.

10. Last but not least, VCs show interest in aging in place technology. Finally, but not least, during 2009, we saw several VC investments in the aging in place tech arena, including a $7.5 million investment in WellAWARE Systemsfrom Valhalla Partners and .406 Ventures; Menlo Ventures made an investment in Wellcore; Shasta Ventures invested $10 million in Caring.com; Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Kleiner Perkins, and Physic Ventures are all examining the health, boomer markets.

UPDATE: Misplaced optimism in this one. Interest, curiosity, not much happening here right now, perhaps due to general VC industry shrinkage. New firms now regularly mention angel investors and foundations are still funding initiatives in the health and aging space (see this AARP announcement.)

So that's the story from here -- if it's incomplete, inaccurate, or insane, please advise!

Laurie M. Orlov, a tech industry veteran, writer, speaker and elder care advocate, is the founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch, a market research firm that provides thought leadership, analysis and guidance about technologies and related services that enable boomers and seniors to remain longer in their home of choice. In addition to her technology background and years as a technology industry analyst, Laurie is a certified long-term care ombudsman in Florida and the author of When Your Parents Need Elder Care.

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