Tech Adoption by Real Seniors, 75+

iPad for the Ages - from Toddlers to Seniors

Flickr photo credits: Toddler by, Senior by Courosa, licensed under Creative Commons

Who knows technology adoption of the real seniors — aged 75+?

By Laurie Orlov, Industry Analyst, Aging in Place Technology Watch

Accenture exaggerates wildly — but what should we think?  

Rant on

Market research firm, Accenture, seeing a void of ‘information’ to use to gain new clients, put out an obfuscating headline in a press release last week that precipitates pause. More than pause — the need for a willing suspension of disbelief: Tech-Savvy Seniors Seek Digital Tools to Manage their Health.  To generate that headline, they surveyed 9015 adults internationally, including the US — and, get this, of those, they included 200 aged 65+ Medicare recipients. Of course, 2 percent of the survey responders is what led some PR genius at Accenture to grab attention with that headline.

EDITOR: I noticed the same thing last month when I spoke to 40-some seniors in a very nice Assisted Living facility here in Austin. The talk was on “Moore’s Law and the Future of Healthcare”and looked 30-40 years into the future through the lens of a technologist. All of my examples would likely occur in my lifetime (I’m 65) but probably not in theirs. Still, the audience was very engaged and interested, but there were some surprising observations:1. No one there owned or used a PC, so there was little chance that they’d personally visit my website afterwards. They also had not experienced Skype or FaceTime. That may have been different for seniors in their own homes supported by family caretakers, and that institutional care might shield them from such things since there’s no need.2. No one there owned a Smartphone. Even so, they understood the tremendous advancements in tech & innovation that makes my iPhone 5 able to execute programmed instructions 10,000 faster than the $3.5 million IBM mainframe computer that I worked on 40 years ago. And they understood that even more advancement would take that power to the size of a cell that flows through the blood to seek out and destroy cancers, or connects with neurons to amplify our cognitive abilities.3. No one there was obese. Most used a walker, and only one used a wheelchair. I guessed that maybe the obese people died off earlier, which is consistent with stats I’ve seen about average lifespan differences.One speculative reason that marketers have not spent more time studying the 75+ demographic is that they’re focused instead on the larger Baby Boom segment, since that’s where the bigger profits are.

So what’s a senior, anyway?  Accenture was pitching global consulting services, naturally, and promoting the report that sat behind the headline — intended for companies filled with young marketers trying to penetrate the mystique of consumers. But when Accenture foists a fact-like assertion, doesn’t this make you want to know — so what IS the technology adoption rate of the real seniors in the US? In September, Pew’s researchers sent this along about those aged 76-80: 8.3% have a smart phone, 60.8% have a regular feature phone and 30.9% have neither type. Odds are that the 30.9% population is not online and thus won’t be seeking a digital tool to manage their health.

Let’s just get over this age 65 cut-off date. As I have previously noted, I am not talking about Medicare eligibility — I am talking about demographic analysis (this means you, too, Pew!). I would argue that we are approaching the day when “senior” is well beyond age 65, in fact when it is  really 75+.  Longevity makes it so — know that if you live to 65, on average, there are another 20 years ahead. And one in four 65-year-olds will make it to age 90. We also know that marketers want to market to people that can buy/use their products. And some have reported that the wealth of the oldest age groups has remained stable in comparison to the youngest. We also know that demographic sampling by age provides a backdrop for identifying segments of prospective buyers of products, services, homes, assisted living, etc.  Good luck, however, finding much in the way of useful information about the tech (or other) needs of the 75+ population, except for a tidbit here and there — in April, 2012, Pew noted that “Internet adoption for those aged 76+ was at 34%” and “Broadband adoption was at 21%.”

So where do you go to find out about these folks? What percentage of the 75+ population is college-educated, owns their own home, has a cell phone or smart phone, goes online (that means you at Social Security Administration, who are phasing out paper statements!), owns a newer television, has a certain level of income or accumulated assets? Or for that matter, has a specific health condition that might need some mitigation or support? [Editor: And how many have a government-issed photo ID or a birth certificate so they can get one and vote?]

Has anyone aggregated the total populations aged 75+ who have macular degeneration, hearing loss, arthritis or dementia?  All of these have big implications for providers of services and products, including technology services and products — those potentially influenced by their adult children and grandchildren. As you know, it can be quite interesting, not to say appalling, to see the gap between a provided service and the actual age of today’s customers.

An unhappy example: soft, plush fabric-covered furnishings in a dementia care unit where the half of the residents who are not in wheelchairs are incontinent and/or unstable when standing up. When the building was configured by its corporate developers, bet they didn’t think too much about the age the prospective customer might be in 3-5 years. Had they wanted to consider it, however, there very few demographic surveys and projections about future assisted living residents that could have helped.

Google this — “When was the last survey about technology use among the age 75+ demographic?” Sadly, it might have been the Linkage Technology Survey that was completed 2 years ago this November. Besides a dribble from Pew, organizations that should provide an age breakdown of their constituents — simply as a public service — offer very little.  AARP uses Pew. The CDC doesn’t survey the 75+. CMS tracks providers and claims (see Fraud update), but not whether the recipients are online. And the Social Security Administration — good grief!

Ask Google for “Percentage Social Security recipients not online.” Note that Google (or Bing or Yahoo) retrieves the monthly statistical snapshot about SSA’s constituent population. That snapshot is available online, but tells nothing about whether their constituents are online to read it. Ah, but there is hope — if you are online but have trouble with a keyboard and a mouse — SSA refers the online viewer to Dragon Naturally Speaking! [speech recognition software for a PC] Hmmmph. As for the real seniors who are aged 75+, technologically speaking, no one seems to think it’s their job to survey them.  About anything.

Rant off

About the Author

Laurie M. Orlov – a tech industry veteran, writer, speaker and elder care advocate – is the founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch, a market research firm that provides thought leadership, analysis and guidance about technologies and services that enable boomers and seniors to remain longer in their home of choice. In addition to her technology background and years as a technology industry analyst, Laurie has served as a volunteer long-term care ombudsman and is certified in Geriatric Care Management from the University of Florida.

6 thoughts on “Tech Adoption by Real Seniors, 75+

  1. From Laurie’s Aging in Place Technology Watch January 2014 Newsletter

    What do we mean by senior? Well, it depends on where you stand and what you are reading. Looked through the Google glass lens of young adults, it’s everyone aged 50+ – the AARP market demographic – who might be considered a senior. Or perhaps it is age 65, when Medicare eligibility and public transit discounts appear. Age 65 is also the statistical baseline for longevity projections – 20 more years of life expectancy, with one in four projected to live past 90. Now mull over a new Pew global survey about attitudes on aging — the US stood out as “one of very few countries where a large plurality of the public believes individuals are primarily responsible for their own well-being in old age.” Consider that point and read on.

    What does a 40 year (age 50-90) additional lifespan mean? Social Security eligibility starts at age 62 – based on available data, the percentage claiming at 62 rose during the recession (along with unemployment). This is a sad commentary on availability of jobs for older workers – claiming at 62 in recent years has hovered around 50%. But taking Social Security at 62 limits outside earnings to $15K per year per ‘retiree until they reach full retirement age. So let’s assume that the 50% taking Social Security at 62 did not believe that they had significant alternative payroll options. And the other 50% will keep on working as long as they can. In fact, in 2010, 30% of those aged 65-69 were still working and 21% of those 70-74 were counted in labor force participation.

    Let’s get focused on the real senior: not working, chronic conditions, on their own. There are 17 million Americans age 75+, more women than men. In 2010, 8.6% of that population was in the labor force. For the sake of argument, let’s say that they’re not working at aged 75+. Nearly half of the 75+ live alone. Faced with a life expectancy at 75 of at least 10 more years — now consider that a plurality of Americans (unlike other countries) believe individuals are responsible for their well-being in old age. Well-being, let’s think about that. Half of the 75+ population has arthritis. And the most common other chronic conditions include heart disease, hypertension, cataracts and hearing impairment. Yes, there are exceptions — check out the 86-year-old gymnast 92-year-old runner, and 90-year-old swim medalist. So forget the age and focus on statistically likely needs that may follow adults who live well past the age of 75.

    The real senior needs better than today’s technology – it must be modular, customized based on need. The real senior may be one who is independent, competent, living alone, but faced with health changes that can slow one’s pace, life changes that can make a home a scary place to be alone, low savings levels that limit freedom, and an inability to find paid work. The real senior will look at Google Glass and self-driving cars as laughable distractions. The real senior with arthritis will pick up a hard-to-clip-on tiny Fitbit with its cutsy messages and put it down. The real senior will watch as the pace of technology change obsoletes particular smart phones and tablets just as they might have offered a useful possibility — replacing them with sleeker, costlier, too-large-to-hold, curved, tougher-to-navigate devices, with an average broadband cost of $38/month. Actual data usage on a tablet or smart phone may be sending the young into poverty– for the real senior, viewing those grandchildren YouTube videos could turn into a costly nightmare. And anyway, only one in three of those ages 75+ are online, >only one in five has broadband. Clearly the designers of cars, the marketers of social media, the carriers of devices and sellers of data plans don’t really want to sell to real seniors.  How funny that these firms will likely saturate the markets of the young and eventually have no place else to go.

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      1. Thanks, Yorlande, for telling us about CareCam, your new all-in-one solution, but I’m surprised that you didn’t design it around a standardized platform such as iOS or Android. Maybe you could explain the reasoning behind that decision since support of standards would likely have greatly expanded your market reach while lowering development costs.

        Some of the very early medical tablets from Intel-GE Care Innovations, GrandCare Systems, and Waldo Health took the same path as you, but while they had first-mover advantage, their proprietary designs dramatically increased product costs, minimized third-party app development, and limited market penetration. If they were to start over from scratch, I expect they’d instead build apps for the Apple iPad or Android-based tablets and sell services to people using devices that they already have and use daily, rather than selling them a proprietary new device just to access the service. Since CareCam does not have that first-mover advantage, and since the development platforms are now well entrenched in the market, I don’t understand your strategy.

        See The Role of Standards in Telehealth.

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