As the population of people over 65 years old grows, so does the interest in developing resources and tools to help older adults stay independent, and to help caregivers support their older family members. But far too often, these tools aren’t widely adopted by older adults. One frequently suggested reason is lack of awareness. That’s true—but it’s more complex than that.
It appears that the developers who claim to be interested in the longevity market have lost sight of the end users’ needs, and instead focused on the technology, healthcare system, or only the needs of family caregivers. However, companies must put the needs of older adults first if they intend to develop useful tools that older adults will connect and engage with in a meaningful way.
I’ve been working in the connected health/active aging space for more than a decade—when it was in its infancy. Since its inception in 2006, GreatCall has created a portfolio of products and services for this market—from cell phones and emergency devices to passive sensor systems and smartphone apps for older adults and their caregivers. The most successful? Those designed with the end-user in mind. Those less successful may have initially sounded cool, and may have even benefitted healthcare, but were too complex for real engagement.
We’ve even had to take a step back and rethink our approach when we noticed some of our services were too complicated. For example, our MedCoach app for medication reminders solved a real problem, but the complexity of entering detailed medication and dosage information on a device created barriers at the same time. Medication management is a complicated challenge for older adults and their healthcare providers, who are often managing multiple prescriptions at a time. After identifying the problem, we re-designed the MedCoach app with a focus on reducing the complexity of entering detailed medication and dosage information to better serve the end user.
Over the years, I’ve seen some really innovative technologies in the space emerge and fail to connect with their intended audience. The technologies may have been cool, but appeared to be created by teams that had little understanding of the senior market. Real, effective innovations in this space are the products and services that solve complex problems with simplicity and thoughtfulness, reducing barriers and increasing engagement.
As GreatCall has grown, we’ve continued to make strides in connecting with our customers and gaining a deep understanding of their needs to better understand how we can serve them. It’s been the foundation of our growth and it was at the core of what made Best Buy’s recent acquisition of GreatCall. The companies share a common mission to enrich people’s lives through technology. When breaking into the market, we looked at new technology, followed its adoption path, and adapted our tech for older adults as they were beginning to show interest in what earlier adopters had begun using years before. We’ve also become very disciplined in following the Lean Product Development methodology, ensuring we understand the needs of the market before investing too much time and money on product development. For instance, with our newest device, the Jitterbug Smart2, we collected user feedback shared with our Caring Centers and conducted user-testing at each stage of the design process, asking for feedback on the phone’s size, interface, and more. All of this information helped to ensure that we understood our customer needs and developed this product accordingly.
As the population of older adults continues to grow, so does the market opportunity. For other entrepreneurs looking to enter the space, my biggest piece of advice is to immerse yourself in the needs and preferences of the customer. Identify a problem or challenge older adults may be facing, and work to offer a simple, easy-to-adopt solution. Think practically about what lifestyle changes someone over 65 would realistically make.
Don’t get enamored with how advanced or ‘cool’ the technology can be. Unlike other consumer tech categories, older adults are not seeking the newest, high-tech option. Instead, this population is seeking easy-to-use tools to address a health issue or help them stay independent. Let’s give them the simplified options they prefer.
Want more from David Inns? Here’s the book he recommends to longevity market professionals.