The traditional wisdom among Silicon Valley’s youthful technorati is to design for what you know—texting your friends in Europe for free (WhatsApp), renting out your bedroom to make extra cash (Airbnb), finding a romantic partner without leaving your house (Tinder). But a handful of entrepreneurs are now looking beyond the millennial market to reach a new demographic with their own needs — baby boomers.
“You’ve got all these 20-something engineering types who are beginning to realize there are older adults who can make use of these products to promote health and well-being,” said Andrew Scharlach, Professor of Aging at the University of California, Berkeley. “What we are beginning to see is the marriage of product developers with the end users that they previously had not been aware of.”
In the United States, 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next decade. This demographic controls approximately 75% of the country’s income. They are living longer than ever before and changing what it means to retire — that is, if they decide to retire.
“Retirement is a recent phenomenon,” said David Lindeman, the Director of the Center of Tech and Aging at U.C. Berkeley. “But it is a basic human interest to stay at your highest functioning level, and maintain your independence as long as possible. Technology is a game changer in terms of autonomy and independence.”
In response to the increase in chronic diseases, as well as rising costs of prescription drugs and long-term health care for older adults, more technology companies are developing products designed to keep people healthier longer. Smartphone apps help to manage diabetes and monitor high blood pressure, while other programs promote fitness and long-term wellness.
“When you’re in your sixties you are probably a caregiver,” said Mary Furlong, who organizes the annual Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit. “But the goal is to live long enough that one day you’ll need a caregiver. A lot of people are having this wake-up call. The revolution in wellness and self-care is primarily having an impact on the boomer population.”
“Technology is a game changer in terms of autonomy and independence.”
Meanwhile, many retirees want to stay in their communities longer and age on their own terms at home. In 2013, 28% of the 65+ population in the United States (8.4 million women and 3.7 million men) lived alone. In the past, technology for this demographic has been limited to emergency response buttons like those made famous on the “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up,” infomercials for LifeCall.
“For the longest time people thought about technology as a panic device, but it [has] evolved into so much more than that,” said Scott Collins, CEO of LinkAge, a venture capital firm that invests in technology aimed at seniors. “I think what you’re seeing is a recognition that the boomers are a massive cohort that have disrupted the economy at every stage of their life, and entrepreneurs and developers are realizing there is a massive market opportunity.”
The advent of smart homes offers increased autonomy though web cams, remote monitoring, and strategically located sensors. The personal emergency response company Lively was founded in 2012, with an eye toward what seniors would actually use.