The pandemic has been difficult for everyone, but especially for our beloved seniors who are particularly vulnerable to the virus. While public health experts placed seniors at the front of the vaccination line, it also has meant that seniors have been the guinea pigs for appointment sign up technologies. The stress has been immense on them, as I can attest with parents in this age group.
What are we learning from this experience? With 69% of seniors over 65 having received at least 1 dose of the vaccine (as of the end of March) , seniors have proven that they can figure out technology. It is something that close observers have known for a while, but people often make the assumption that technology is a rate limiting step when it comes to seniors.
When looking at the seniors of tomorrow, one survey reports that more than 75% of respondents aged 55 to 65 years old own smartphones and use downloaded apps; however, less than 40% have used a healthcare app. And while virtual healthcare phone calls are now common, few people have used video calls, text messages or picture messages for a virtual care appointment.
Experts believe that the relatively low utilization of healthcare technologies is more likely because of a lack of healthcare apps designed for seniors than a result of seniors’ preference or reluctance to use them. We already know seniors are actively using digital technology because they are searching online health information almost as much as younger adults. 
Seniors increasingly want to remain active longer and age at home. Technology can facilitate their ability to achieve these goals. The push for these technologies is called the “longevity marketplace,” and even Silicon Valley is in on this trend. You might even say that some companies are innovating for the good of humanity.
But of course, there’s cold hard cash driving innovation too. The longevity market in the U.S. — which includes safety and smart-living technologies, health and remote care, and wellness and fitness technologies — is expected to triple in the next three years, to nearly $30 billion, according to a report by the Consumer Technology Association.
Intuition Robotics is one company that has developed technology to help older adults avoid loneliness and social isolation. Their first product is a robot called ElliQ, which Dor Skuler, co-founder and CEO, calls “a sidekick for happier aging.” It can begin conversations with seniors to help them stay in touch with family or loved ones, promote healthy behaviors (e.g., nudges to take medication) and stay connected with the outside world.
Neuro Rehab VR is also dedicated to helping seniors. The technology provides a virtual reality experience for seniors going through physical therapy following a stroke, brain injury or spinal cord injury or who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases. By applying machine learning, Neuro Rehab VR customizes exercise plans to a patient’s specific therapeutic needs. The virtual therapy records physiological and kinematic responses, quantifying the progress of the patient with scores and metrics over time.
Embodied Labs also applies virtual reality to help senior healthcare. However, the objective is very different. These headsets offer simulations in which caregivers can see and experience what an aging person faces in a variety of situations, including macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A technology providing a critical human component in the care for our seniors – the ability to empathize with their way of life.
Development of these technologies has the potential to improve the lives of our parents, grandparents and hopefully ourselves in the future. It could not come at a better time as this population grows at a rapid pace. But first we must realize that technology is not a problem for our seniors as much as the biases that we hold preventing us from seeing how we can help them live their lives to the fullest. Remember that the next time you get a forwarded email from your parents or grandparents…
* Insightec does not review or endorse any of the mentioned companies and cannot guarantee that the content is accurate or complete. This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always discuss treatment options with your physician or other qualified health provider.
- gov. Press briefing by White House COVID-19 response team and public health officials. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2021/03/22/press-briefing-by-white-house-covid-19-response-team-and-public-health-officials-18/. Accessed April 26, 2021.
- Mobii Health News. An untapped market for digital health innovation exists among seniors hoping to age in place. https://www.mobihealthnews.com/news/untapped-market-digital-health-innovation-exists-among-seniors-hoping-age-place. Accessed March 26, 2021.
- Consumer Technology Association. Active Aging Perceptions and Attitudes. https://www.cta.tech/Resources/i3-Magazine/i3-Issues/2019/May-June/Active-Aging-Perceptions-and-Attitudes. Accessed March 26, 2021.
- 7 new tech devices for elder care that help seniors live happier, healthier lives. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/12/7-new-tech-devices-for-that-help-seniors-live-happier-healthier-lives.html. Accessed March 26, 2021.