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By 2050, the number of adults over 60 years of age is set to double. This huge demographic shift will have profound implications across society and will require a significant rethink of products, processes and policies. Technology can play a critical role, but despite this silver wave, the unique needs of older adults have largely been ignored by the bulk of tech companies. In fact, startups aimed at users age 65 and up only attracted about 0.7 percent of venture capital in 2018.

However, we are seeing the beginning of a change. Technology high and low is waking up to the size and spending power of the market, as well as the opportunity to lay down a marker as a leader within the niche. At the same time, we’re changing, too, becoming more comfortable with technology, while also embracing simpler trends to promote wellness. Expect these four trends to make headlines in 2019:

Voice first technology opens up new horizons
Despite unprecedented growth in technology adoption, many older adults experience difficulty using programs and products that have been designed with a younger audience in mind. In fact, the problem is so mainstream that the trope of young children showing grandparents how to operate devices is less of a joke than a reality. Fortunately, voice technology may be the solution.

We’ve become familiar with the concept of voice-commanded devices, such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, and 2019 will see increased usage amongst older generations, as well as a proliferation of integrated and stand-alone devices and platforms. Voice provides an easier, more natural way of interfacing with technology and allows high degrees of personalization to further simplify interactions. It also provides a viable alternative when age-related impairments like dry skin or impaired vision make screen and touch-based technology impractical.

In December, Amazon announced it was partnering with Omron Healthcare to wed its voice technology to the company’s blood pressure devices. This is likely the tip of the iceberg.

 

Tech giants revolutionize healthcare
Voice activation isn’t the only area where the big tech names will make a splash. Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon have made some moves into both professional and home healthcare, and with an increasing audience, expect them to heavily invest in new solutions this year.

Not only do the tech giants have huge war chests, they also have the data, expertise and hardware to make a significant difference. Take Nest – a divison of Google – as an example. The company has already floated some ideas about how its home automation technology can create new solutions for older adults. These may be as straightforward as simple conveniences – motion sensors that allow people to get to the bathroom at night by turning on lights, or as lifesaving as identifying changes in movement that may be a signal for a fall.

Technology targets dementia and cognitive decline
The concept of exercising your mind through intellectual play is nothing new. Neurodiversity – performing different mental tasks to potentially sharpen the mind and provide protective benefits – has been around for years, but the hard research is still in its infancy. However, the ability of games to record progress makes them remarkable indicators of brain health.

Clover Health partnered with tech company MindMate to create an app that combines brain games, nutrition, exercise and social interaction to encourage good cognitive health. The company founders are keen to emphasize that they cannot reverse the effects of cognitive decline, but by analyzing the data that the app collects, a decline in user performance can provide an alert that intervention may be necessary. By pinpointing when assistance is needed, healthcare professionals and caregivers can make changes that improve overall quality of life and provide the levels of support that individuals require.

Low-tech makes its mark
While last year’s Consumer Electronics Show gave us huggables with heartbeats that lull you to sleep, a weighted blanket may be a better (and less creepy) way to get a good night’s sleep while relieving a little stress.

American startup Gravity developed its blanket in 2017, and it utilizes the power of “deep touch pressure stimulation” to simulate the feeling of being held or hugged. This increases the production of melatonin and serotonin, which boost relaxation, while decreasing cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress.

By promoting a good night’s sleep, the brain’s emotional centres can maintain an healthy equilibrium, which not only reduces stress in the day, but also reduces the risk of stress-related illnesses. Gravity has already sold US$24 million of blankets in 15, 20 and 25lb weights. Its success shows that there is room for solutions that do not require a high-tech approach, and as consumers show increased interest in all forms of wellbeing, this space is poised to go mainstream.

 

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