The population of older adults in the US is growing rapidly. In 2030, one in five U.S. residents will be over the age of 65. It’s no surprise, then, that this age group has finally captured the interest of the tech world: by 2030, experts expect aging tech to be a $30 billion market.
The innovation and resources funneling into tech for this demographic have already improved many seniors’ lives. Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond are developing all kinds of impactful solutions for older adults, from wearable devices and social networks to AI-powered healthcare.
But there are a few things the tech world needs to keep in mind when designing for seniors. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t just be looking for solutions that just solve a problem: they must find solutions that also integrate, scale, and treat users with dignity and respect.
There are different buyer personas involved in the longevity market that have different implications for marketing and sales. On the B2C side, there’s just the consumer: the older adult who buys the product or service directly. But on the B2B side, it’s more complicated. The older adult is sometimes still the end user, but often the buyer is a healthcare provider or a senior living community. Plus, staff may be using the tech as well.
Securing funding for the venture is the other part of the equation. But the good news is that there’s a growing body of funding sources with eyes on aging tech ventures.
For healthcare tech, federal and commercial insurance agencies might be able to step in. Many senior healthcare startups have had success getting reimbursed by private health insurance providers, as well as Medicare and Medicaid.
And venture capitalists and angel investors alike increasingly want a stake in longevity market companies. A number of top VC firms are adding aging tech companies to their portfolio—Andreessen Horowitz invested $20 million in Series A funding for home care startup Honor, for example. A host of other firms have created dedicated funds for aging tech investments.
In recent years, tech that relies on cameras has become more common in long-term care communities. Many of these solutions have shown significant promise in increasing older adults’ health outcomes and safety — they can help prevent falls, abuse, and other health emergencies. But there’s one problem: they rely on constant surveillance.
It’s essential that surveillance technology is never installed without the consent of the people living with the camera. Too often, older adults in senior living communities don’t have that choice—even if they agree to it, they may hesitate to speak up if they begin to feel uncomfortable.
Companies creating surveillance tech need to work toward solutions that balance both safety and privacy. Legally, surveillance needs to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)—but it falls on tech providers and long-term care managers to establish clear policies on camera use that doesn’t violate residents’ sense of dignity.
Privacy is also a concern with the advance of voice technology in senior living. Amazon Alexa and other smart speakers for older adults need to be HIPAA-compliant as well, but people of all ages—not just older adults—worry that this kind of tech is “always listening.” Tech providers should be mindful of these concerns when introducing such solutions to new users.
The challenges seniors face are different from challenges that other generations face. Sometimes tech solutions that address one problem might be ignoring—or even exacerbating—a set of others.
For example, take someone with visual impairment. An entrepreneur recognizes this problem and comes up with a solution: a virtual reality headset to help the person see more clearly. But this entrepreneur is overlooking the social aspect of the tech. How will it integrate into the user’s environment?
That entrepreneur might not consider that the visually impaired person doesn’t want to walk around all day with a clunky device on their head.
Here’s another scenario: a tech company creates a video-call platform specifically for senior living residents. But the residents aren’t really interested in using it—they say the interface is unappealing and looks like it was designed for seniors. They can just use FaceTime instead. Older adults don’t want to use technology that’s demeaning, or tech that that’s just an “old” version of something they can get elsewhere.
Designing solutions for older adults isn’t just about creating a product that uses any means necessary to solve a problem. Designers need to think of their products as extensions of older adults’ lifestyles and needs—their tech use should be dignified.
Perhaps the most important thing for tech entrepreneurs to understand about the longevity market is that seniors aren’t a monolith. There are many different segments of this group in terms of age, health, abilities, and socioeconomic factors. And everyone interacts with technology differently. Understand these differences by talking to older adults from all backgrounds.
If you want to create a product for an older adult, you need to get to know them first. User research is a tenet of product design, but in the longevity market, this step is too often ignored.
Before I co-founded Caremerge, a digital communication and engagement platform for senior living, I actually lived in an assisted living community for several months—there was no other way to get intimately familiar with the community’s pain points and its residents’ needs.
Once you launch a product or service, you need to constantly be talking to your users (which aren’t always older adults) and incorporating their feedback. Some of their hang-ups or difficulties using the technology won’t necessarily be obvious to the people building the tech.
As technology advances work their way into senior living, it’s important for tech entrepreneurs to understand that while tech’s potential is powerful, it’s also limited.
Yes, certain tech solutions—especially on the clinical side—can have profound effects on older adults’ wellbeing and health outcomes. But on the whole, tech should just get better at connecting people to person-centered care and support.
If you’re building an AI model that makes recommendations for prescriptions, ensure that specialists and in-office visits aren’t removed from that process. If you’re creating a social platform for assisted living communities, see how you can have that tech prioritize in-person connections.
The best solutions for the longevity market don’t have to come out of the tech world; there are plenty of non-digital innovations happening across the aging sectors. But when it comes to technology, tech entrepreneurs who adopt a people-first approach in designing solutions will see the most impact—and longevity.