Monday, 11 November 2013

How do we make 'elder care' sexy?

I had an interesting chat with Maneesh Juneja last week, ahead of my participation in a panel discussion at Health 2.0 Europe. We were talking about how, despite the current hype in the health technology industry, events specific about technology for elder care often fail to attract large numbers of young technology developers and entrepreneurs. Looks like, despite its importance, developing tools for older people is just not sexy enough for this crowd.

Think about all the cool solutions that have emerged in recent years in the Health 2.0 space. Think about sleek looking activity tracking devices like Fitbit. Think about awesome apps like Runkeeper or GetHealth that motivate people to pursue healthier lifestyles. Think about Scanadu and its promise to enable anyone to conduct sophisticated physical examinations from home (while using a beautifully designed piece of equipment!). These companies are doing a great job in terms of turning things like eating healthy and exercising, perceived by many as tough or boring, into something social, fun and cool. So why can't we do the same for elder care?

Unfortunately, for many, elder care is still a topic to avoid. On a personal level, a large number of people don't want to think about 'ageing' until they are about to retire or suddenly find themselves caring for an older relative. On a professional level, many find the idea of working with older people dull or depressing. If you consider these perceptions,  it is not hard to understand why developing technology for people with dementia or caregivers, for example, fail to appeal to the majority.

I think one of the problems here is that we keep talking about older people as if they were this separate entity that never has anything to do with us. We often forget that we are all (hopefully) going to age ourselves, and many of us will care for an older relative before that. To me it seems obvious that innovation in elder care should be seen as something super exciting since we are all potential users and consumers of these solutions. I certainly want my 'elderhood' to be as awesome as my child and adulthood were and I believe you should feel the same. So it is about time we start thinking more seriously about ways of turning elder care into something really cool, something to be celebrated rather than avoided.

So I guess my questions to you are: How do we get more technology developers and entrepreneurs interested in developing awesome solutions for older people and their caregivers? In other words, how do we make elder care sexy?

I have a few ideas myself and I will be writing about this soon, but for now I would like to hear your thoughts and ideas.

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Brenda Reginatto


Health 2.0 EuropeHealth 2.0 Europe is taking place in London, November 17-19th. Brenda Reginatto will be part of the final panel discussion at the pre-conference workshop "Health 2.0 Tools for the Elderly" (November 17th) moderated by Maneesh Juneja.

8 comments:

  1. Brenda, spot on. Part of the problem is that the prototypical designer is a 38 year old, white male. The older person seems to be invisible to the design process. Designing "aids" is not sexy but then, where are all the retired fashion, car, interior design designers? Who thinks fashion, cars and interiors aren't sexy? Everyone who is alive is ageing but not everyone alive will get to grow old. Having older people involved in the evaluation as well as the design process is critical to the creation of products that will make living longer, greater.
    Keep spreading the word. Sexy is in the eye of the beholder, right!

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    1. Yes Deb, involving older people and caregivers in the design and evaluation process is critical. This is the only way to fully understand existing unmet needs and properly segment this hugely heterogeneous group of people.

      On your point about the typical designer - my hope is that as more of them start dealing with ageing relatives, they will start paying more attention to existing opportunities in this market.

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  2. Ditto to what Brenda and Deb said.

    Accidentally I had the luck to attend a meeting of Brazilian researchers today at which three young men (all in their 20s) presented their research on a "robotic walking aid". They come from different background (product design, engineering and software development) and seemed really excited about this project.

    Exceptions confirm the rule... Let's hope that the number of exceptions increases quickly, so that this post becomes outdated.

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    1. Hi Ina, it must have felt refreshing to see their excitement about this project. That is the kind of attitude that we need to move this industry forward.

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  3. Echo previous comments.
    I would add from my experience with @somomedical I'm meeting healthcare professionals from falls prevention programmes that want to incorporate self assessment and personal updates into tech solutions.

    To follow on the people centred development theme, I think we can leverage the interest and tech saviness from 'silver surfers'.

    You know of my interest so lets keep the momentum going.

    Richie

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    1. Thank you for your comment Richie. Being a healthcare professional myself, I can assure you that professionals are longing for solutions that will help them provide better care for older people. There are a lot of opportunities to create great solutions in this space and that is why we need more start-ups like SoMoMed to take the lead.

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  4. I see this industry (elder care) becoming more and more 'sexy' - meaning technology entrepreneurs and VC investment are more and more being attracted to it. But it feels like information is not as widely available as in other technology-related industries. Check this list: https://angel.co/elder-care . Most are very young companies, meaning there's a lot to expect in the coming years - but most importantly, many of them get the segmentation problem right (which a lot of 'experts' don't). Also, Avado has been recently acquired by WebMD, people say in the $30M range http://goo.gl/tYP0nQ, for example.

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    1. Thank you for sharing these links Joao. Spreading the word about successful stories is definitely critical to make this industry more attractive to technology entrepreneurs and VC investment.

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