More than a quarter million Americans turn 65 each month – a statistic President Obama shared at the White House Conference on Aging last week. A demographic that is even larger globally, the aging generation is being referred to as a “silver tsunami,” a rising tide of individuals with unique demands in a broad host of areas, from housing to healthcare. Our responsibility to address their needs is growing as this generation ages and increases in size. The new aging population is redefining what it means to grow older. Though many perceive older generations as being out of touch with technology, nearly 55 percent of baby boomers in the U.S. have a smartphone (compared to usage across all Americans at 61 percent). In an increasingly connected world, innovators are harnessing this technology to simplify and revolutionize the way millions of people address personal health by creating easy-to-use tech that meets the changing needs that come with age.
But these breakthroughs will only achieve the desired impact when they are widely adopted by the intended audience. To meet the unique needs of our seniors, technology should be simple to use, easily personalized, and accessible. As we have seen, healthcare technology in particular offers these benefits. Smart devices and mobile apps can be customized down to the finest detail and are designed to be intuitive and seamlessly integrate into any lifestyle. Today’s innovative tech solutions empower people to take control of their health while still enjoying the freedom to lead active lives. The massive success of technologies like pocket-sized diabetes monitors, fitness watches, or the iPhone’s built-in health features are great examples of this, and they have the potential to improve public health.
Creating apps and devices that support health is not a new idea, but seniors don’t often consider tech a go-to option for helping manage their growing healthcare needs. Traditionally, aging populations have resisted adopting new technologies and, as a result, companies often fail to identify aging adults as a lucrative market for technology innovation. But this is changing, and companies must adapt to include this previously overlooked demographic. With connectivity increasing between apps, accessories, mobile phones and computers, technology can provide flexible, desirable healthcare solutions for a range of challenges.
If tech is the solution, the best way to deliver it is by creating intuitive, connected products and services to address the healthcare problems the aging population is already facing. Barbara Beskind of IDEO, a global design firm, has named the three biggest health problems for the elderly: balance, hearing, and vision loss over time. Already, there are many innovative companies creating smart solutions for these big issues. Warby Parker uses technology to deliver glasses by mail to people around the country without the traditional expense of a designer pair, giving seniors another convenient option in addressing their vision loss. Honor and Care.com were featured for their use of technology to connect the elderly with care providers and improve the ease of access to existing services.
There are also technologies to assist seniors that aren’t so new. Developed in the late 1950s, hearing aids are widely considered to be the first wearable technology ever created. And the industry has continued evolving and pushing the envelope for innovative technology. For example, people using ReSound’s Smart Hearing aids can now adjust their hearing aid settings from their smartphone or Apple Watch with ease and discretion using our ReSound Smart app, providing personalization to hearing health that was previously impossible without a visit to the audiologist. In developing this technology, both seniors and everyday consumers were at the forefront of our consideration – we wanted to create something that was intuitive, accessible and could seamlessly integrate into day-to-day life. This kind of technology not only helps seniors stay connected to their world, it encourages a new generation to address their hearing health.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We’ve come a long when since the bill was signed, creating technology that breaks down barriers for those living with certain disabilities. But for healthcare and tech innovators, the “silver tsunami” headed our way should be viewed as a call to action to create additional smart solutions for a group that very much needs them. It is both our opportunity and our responsibility to deliver on this call. By harnessing the power of technology, we can develop even more innovative products and services that will play a significant role in helping our seniors age gracefully.
Morten Hansen is Vice President of Partnerships & Connectivity with GN ReSound, a leading international developer and manufacturer of advanced and innovative hearing healthcare solutions.