What CES 2017 Missed: Simplifying The Challenges Of Eldercare

CES 2017 delivered on promises for excitement in categories like automotive, home electronics, and virtual reality but, looking out over the showroom floor, there was one category that was underrepresented by the big electronic trends.

Eldercare is a growing issue in the United States. AARP estimates the value of caregiver services provided for free by family members of aging adults at approximately $450 billion annually. That number is nearly three times the amount spent on both home healthcare and in nursing homes across the U.S. combined. The problem is only exacerbated by the anticipated 1 million nurse shortage predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics between 2014 and 2022. 

A billion-dollar opportunity exists for companies and entrepreneurs alike looking to tackle this problem. But as I walked the floor at CES, I only saw two companies seriously approaching the space. One, a company called Suitable Technologies, looks to enter senior care with the Beam Robot, a communications solution helping seniors connect through video conferencing. The second, Yumii, offers a home care platform and purpose-built robot for senior care. 



The rest of the companies considering senior care at CES came from the infant care space, and in my opinion missed the mark on understanding what senior care requires. Rather than deliberately concentrating on simplifying the challenges inherent in eldercare, their products were bright and flashy, and clearly designed for younger families. Even CES Innovation winners like Kuri were focused on extending the connected home rather than being a care solution for the family. 

As we start to think more about eldercare in the coming years, I’d like to offer a few recommendations for folks who think elder care is on their roadmap.

1. Don’t talk to them like they’re old.

“Seniors,” like “Millennials,” is a term that’s great for conversations, but terrible for making informed marketing decisions. Each individual has a different range of life experiences, different challenges and unique interests. Marketing to them as one group can appear downright insulting. Talk about their interests and values, their lifestyle, their stage of life but not about their age. Know the fine line between being patronizing towards your older audience and accommodating their issues respectfully.

2. Spy-tech isn’t a core product offering.

Many of the companies approaching senior care from the infant care space saw 24/7 camera access as a key selling point for their product. This makes sense in infant care because we don’t ask infants if it’s okay to check-in on them throughout the day, but in senior care, uninvited access is a short trip to the robot being buried in the corner with a blanket over its head. For seniors, having the opportunity to elect or consent to these features is a requirement for widespread adoption.

3. Human connection will drive early adoption.

Product positioning for seniors is very important. Seniors might be hesitant to accept a semi-autonomous new roommate, but they would be more likely to accept a new gadget that allowed them to video-call their grandchildren with ease. Providing a simple voice-driven interface that gives elders a way to escape loneliness provides real value. Improving the usability of existing services will be a market leader for Eldercare.

4. Aspiration and Entertainment 

Everyone has goals for new things they’d like to accomplish. Those aspirations are no less real for seniors, but entertainment for aging Boomers is different. Binge-watching Netflix, when you have no other options, becomes boring, fast. However, e-Learning offers a great model for how a home assistant robot can work for today’s seniors. A robot that can curate and schedule classes and events based on interests provides a high-value source of entertainment in a friendly, home setting. Courses could be offered through a content marketplace where seniors and caregivers can pick topics that suit their needs.

5. Technology can simplify doctor visits and reduce unnecessary trips to the ER

Senior healthcare providers need to think about how they can incorporate telehealth into their service offering. While not currently available to all seniors, today’s wave of Baby Boomer retirees has an opportunity to change how telehealth services are classified under Medicare coverage. HIPAA-compliant data storage is becoming less complex, and Telehealth services would make great use of existing camera hardware onboard. Incorporating Telehealth services could also increase the range of subsidies available on the device, lowering end-user costs. 

The more we realize that everyone's "just another person" — albeit with a little more experience, a few more aches and pains, existing in a different demographic — the more easily we can connect with them and leverage technology to improve their lives.

1 comment about "What CES 2017 Missed: Simplifying The Challenges Of Eldercare".
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  1. Andrew Williams from Digitas Health replied, January 14, 2017 at 3:03 p.m.

    Hi Paula, thank you for the comment. I generally agree with you that technology won't solve all of our problems, especially with a condition as complicated as dementia. I think technology can do two things well: (1) allow seniors better access to the world around them, and (2) improve the quality of life for caregivers assisting with senior care.

    For 1, asking seniors to learn a new user interface (e.g., a new app menu or navigation structure) is silly. The barrier to entry is too high, no matter how great the purported value might be. Voice driven commands lower that barrier and allow seniors to engage with the technology in a natural way. Instead of hunting around for a button seniors can just say things like "What's the weather like?", "Call Jenny.", "Get me an Uber.". This isn't new technology, but it's a simplified way for seniors to take advantage of technologies which might have seemed intimidating. Great call is a fantastic company to watch in this space:

    For 2, there are elements of senior care which are common and routine. Making sure a loved one took their meds is a good example. It seems reasonable to think that technology could solve a small problem like med reminders and verification. If that's true, then it eliminates the need for a human to do that task. With enough small talks like that, we can start to shift the role of caregivers within eldercare. Caregivers can get back to spending quality time with their loved ones, rather than focusing on the mechanics of care.

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