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How tech is catering to the elderly and caregivers


At CES 2020, tech’s biggest trade show, it was heartening to see that the tech industry is paying attention to the needs of the elderly and the younger people who provide care for the elderly.

I’ve paid attention to this since my 86-year-old mother has severe dementia and lives in a memory care home in Silicon Valley. For years, I couldn’t find any technology that she could handle or that could make my life easier. But I’m happy to see that many tech companies now get it. Our generation is about to be overwhelmed with caregiving tasks for the elderly, and we need some help.
CES 2020 had 2.9 million square feet of space and 4,500 exhibitors in Las Vegas. Most of the tech for the elderly was in the health and wellness marketplace in the Sands Expo, which was up 25% in exhibitors and 15% in square footage.

“The role technology will play in health monitoring and self-treatment is already in great demand for eldercare and to anyone that needs to keep track of their health,” said Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Technologies who has attended 50 CES events over the decades, in an email. “It will be one of the more important growth markets in tech in the next 20 years.”

I noticed the trend at CES 2019, and what was different compared to the past is that it wasn’t just startups with attentive CEOs who were coming up with these products. Big companies were paying attention as well to the human side of technology, from sex tech to mom products. And it makes sense.

The American Association of Retired Persons said in “2019 Tech Trends and the 50+” that 115 million Americans over 50 represent an enormous market for technology and that by the end of the next decade this group is projected to spend $84 billion on tech products.

One of the problems is that technologists have been designing cool products that don’t resonate with older people. Jitterbug created its retro cell phones because fancy products like the iPhone just weren’t designed for older people. And some of the products also weren’t designed with much younger caregivers in mind either.

“Social robots have struggled to find a home in recent years,” said Steve Koenig, vice president of market research at the Consumer Technology Association, in a press briefing. “If you have an aging loved one at home, you want the peace of mind to know that their medication was dispensed. Treating people, like seniors with Alzheimer’s, requires a focus on the human-machine interaction.”

Apple didn’t appear at the show, but its Apple Watch and iPhone products keep adding new capabilities for detecting health problems, such as atrial fibrillation (via ECG), a life-threatening condition caused by an irregular heart rate. (I used my iPhone/Apple Watch to figure out that I walked 37 miles at the show.)

The media also did a better job focusing on stories about the elderly and caregivers.