Declining population and an aging demographic are challenges for many rural U.S. telecom operators and their communities. These challenges may be even greater in other countries, such as China where it will only take 26 years for its population aged 65 and over to increase from 7 to 14% of the general populace (as compared to 76% for the U.S.). Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities and the focus of last week’s 8th Annual Boomer Venture Summit at Santa Clara University was on the opportunities to serve an aging population through new devices and services.
Greg O’Neill, PhD, of the National Academy on an Aging Society, indicated that as societies move from an agricultural to industrial to service economy and get wealthier, they also make a demographic transition from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates. There is concern that some of the developing countries will make this transition too quickly and that they will, “Grow old before they grow rich.”
One implication of this demographic trend is that China will not be the low-cost labor competitor in 10 years. O’Neill thinks there is an opportunity to create products and services for the growing senior market, whether in the U.S or internationally. The challenge may be making these products and services affordable.
Scott Collins, president and CEO of Linkage, which is essentially a buying organization for senior living communities, warned of “A wave of poverty coming down the road.” He said that affordability is a key need.
One organization that is morphing to reflect a changing environment is AARP. Jody Holtzmann, SVP of Thought Leadership for AARP, emphasized how AARP has to be mission driven, instead of organization-driven. Their mission of improving the quality of life of all, as people age reflected the conference exhibitors and speakers who offered up products and services such as:
- A Cellular radio-based, inexpensive Personal Emergency Response System, from SurePod, that provides mobility and a two-way voice connection to a call center in the event of an emergency.
- Body Area Networking – ReFlex Wireless, a start-up has developed a series of wireless sensors for monitoring parameters such as pulse, heart rhythms, position and envisions applications both within the hospital and at home.
- More than just transportation, SilverRide provides companionship and personalized activities for their customers. Reliable transportation is an important element in helping people age at home.
- Flipper Remote – a simple, six button remote control. Their new model promises to tune Internet video programming as well.
- Home Health Tech – a distributor to dealers of technology that helps people live independent in their own homes. Home Health Tech distributes products from GrandCare Systems and Presto were featured in this video interview at CES 2011.
- Cookstop – stovetop fire prevention, which turns off the stove if motion isn’t detected in a user-determined amount of time. They are finding that it has use from seniors to college students.
The Cookstop product is indicative of a design approach that AARP advocates in their recently issued report, “Connected Living for Social Aging: Designing Technology for All.” In the forward to that report, Holtzmann suggests that, “the ‘lens’ of every user group must be a conscious part of the design function.”
An underlying assumption to the report is the availability of some form of wired or wireless broadband. AARP sees broadband, coupled with new devices, transforming the way people volunteer, socialize and work in their senior years. The report advises vendors to move forward with better products that will help baby boomers stay connected and live social lives; echoing the theme of the 8th Annual Boomer Venture Summit.