The Business of Ageing

At the start of presentations or seminars with older adults we’ll ask a couple of questions to get a sense of the audience’s interests. “How many of you own a smartphone?”

 Mobile Wireless Telephony: International Price Comparisons and Canada’s Price Difference Relative to Foreign Jurisdictions                 Source: CRTC (2016)

Mobile Wireless Telephony: International Price Comparisons and Canada’s Price Difference Relative to Foreign Jurisdictions                Source: CRTC (2016)

It depends on the audience, but generally the majority will raise their hands – it’s certainly never less than 50%. A growing number of older adults living at home own smartphones or connected devices.  According to StatsCan over 94% of Canadians own a connected device, including 69% of 55-64 year olds. That number drops to 18% for those over 75 years old.

The majority (59%) of Canadian’s believe that having technology makes living easier – including 55% of 65-74 year olds, however this drops precipitously to just 36% for those over 75. This group perceived that they were least likely to benefit from technology.

There numbers reveal a few lessons for those of us focussed on improving the lives of older adults, and working to help them live more independently, longer. We are betting the house that technology is the solution to improving the lives of older adults, and that it’s also one solution to reigning in the escalating cost of healthcare. Before this Utopian view can become a reality a number of issues need to be addressed.

First, the “older adults” we researchers and marketers refer to are not an homogenous group. The context of people’s lives (where and how they live), their individual abilities and the technology itself create classic sub-groups of consumers or segments with common interests and needs. The boomer bulge is entering retirement and they are living longer. They’re also on average, more financially well off than previous generations, and used to influencing markets.  Either directly, or indirectly, this group will pay for novel medical AND consumer health technologies. Understanding WHO these older adults are will be critical for health systems and enterprises hoping to encourage the adoption of technologies designed to improve the health of populations and decrease the costs to care for them. 

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Second, our work with older adults and their perspectives on intelligent assistive technologies suggests that developers and researchers are focussed on developing “cool tools” whereas older adults are pragmatic about what technologies they should be using. As one participant in a recent study told us: “Why would you have [the technology] otherwise? It's there to help you, and if it's not helping you, it's no good”. They adopt reliable technology that they entrust to make their lives easier. Period.

Third, most intelligent assistive devices require connectivity, many require wireless connectivity. Canadians pay amongst the highest telecom rates in the world. There has to be a compelling value proposition for older adults on fixed incomes to pay for monthly data plans. Our study participants with smartphones but no data plan call them “dumb phones”, and tell us there’s no reason for them to be connected outside their homes. This presents a significant barrier to companies developing and marketing assistive devices that will not be paid for by Medicare.

The DRiVE team is working to develop a better understanding of how older adults perceive innovative technologies, and how regions can include older adults to help researchers, industry, government and other organizations build systems, cities and processes that are relevant and age-friendly. We’re happy to chat with anyone interested in collaborating with our team or who would like to find out more about how we can help