Sales Of Emergency Devices For Elderly Grow, But 'Can't Get Up' Too Much

Older people are afraid of falling or being home alone when some other life-changing event occurs. 

But many of them also don’t want to deal with it. 

Those are two of the complicated factors that slow growth in the personal emergency response systems (PERS) industry, even as technologies like Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth make those devices better than ever. Now, in addition to wearing a medallion around your neck, there are devices that look and act like smartwatches, whole-home monitors, motion detectors and other new tech ways for old people to feel protected.

Marketers do see an uptick. Parks Associates estimates that over 10% of the 65+ population will own a PERS system by 2021, and that figure will jump  to 15% for seniors 75 and over. By that year, more than  56 million Americans will be 65 and over and nearly 7 million will be older than 84.



So growth in sales is just a sliver of what it could be.

I agree that 15% is really modest, but it still represents almost a doubling of the market from 2017,” Jennifer Kent, director of research quality and product development at Parks, tells Marketing Daily

Kent is optimistic about growth as new, cooler devices gain traction with the elderly and with caregivers, and as even more Baby Boomers enter the market. By 2030, when the last of the Boomers has a birthday, one in five Americans will be 65 and over, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The research firm hosts its fifth annual Connected Health Summit: Engaging Consumers, Aug. 28 - 30 in San Diego, with experts looking at strategies to grow the market.

Kent mentions one curious situation marketers have faced: an image problem. “Due to the early ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’  messaging in the industry, consumers view these devices as being for the extremely old or extremely sick.” But, she observes, “few seniors want to wear a device that brands them to others as too old or too sick to care for themselves.”

That ad, from LifeAlert, from all the way back in 1987, does seem to cast a long shadow. A Philadelphia Inquirer story about Medical Guardian, a new entrant in the field, reported the PERS image problem: “The LifeAlert slogan was unforgettably catchy. Crowed by a distressed older woman [above] in cheaply produced TV commercials, its lasting power cast a stigma that kept many from adopting the devices.”

There are other marketing impediments that may be unique to the business. While many consumers of all ages may now be beginning to feel Internet businesses know too much about them, seniors may have felt that way from the get-go, and still do. As the last wave of Boomers ages out, those attitudes might change. 

"Almost one-third of heads of household ages 40 - 64 reported interest in a service that alerts family members if they are in an emergency," Kent says. Even that desire for emergency assistance is shaded by some awkwardness. She says caregivers have “difficulty addressing the issue — focus group findings indicate many caregivers fear even having the conversation with their elder loved one.”

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