Breaking Through Stigma in Senior Tech
For all its diversity, the huge Boomer generation usually has one experience in common: the challenge of helping aging parents and loved ones stay healthy and independent. I call it a challenge because many seniors aren’t happy to think they need help, and as a result, they often turn it away, whether it comes from their family or from technology. Maybe especially from technology.
It's Not You, It's Them
Today we have sensors, devices, and apps that can be helpful for virtually every chronic or acute condition that elders either live with or are at risk for, from Alzheimer’s to Zika. Do we see these technologies in widespread use? Do family members even know where to find them? Surely the marketing and channel development we’ve seen so far could be better, but that misses the point. Almost uniquely, senior tech is a sector where more often than not, the customers don’t want what you’re selling. The product might be perfectly fine, but it feels stigmatizing to own or use it.
I Don't Need It (aka I Don't Want It)
This past March, U.S. News & World Report surveyed 2,000 older adults to learn how they’re using assistive technologies. Nearly half of them (47%) don’t use any health-related technologies at all, and of that group, the overwhelming majority (70%), said they don’t need them yet. Sound familiar? Every family caregiver that has had to frequently repeat (and repeat) what they’ve just said, or has their heart skip a beat every time a frail parent uses the stairs, knows this mindset well. We must find solutions.
The most commonly heard answer simply re-frames the problem -- seniors aren’t really the customers for senior tech, their kids are. That’s all fine and good until the purchased wearable – or worse, the mPERS – ends up uncharged and in a drawer within days or weeks. You can’t force compliance; if you could, health professionals would be very happy campers.
In my view, one necessary solution is a greater focus on the product’s appeal, rather than its benefits. These are not the same thing. Benefits should be thought of as a given; without them there’s no reason for the product. Appeal is different; it’s why people prefer one product over another, even when the benefits are more or less the same. Nobody wants to need hearing aids or incontinence supplies. But many seniors do need them, and according to most research, they’re extremely brand loyal.
The Emotional Component
Obviously, need is a great purchase driver, but for this market, want may be worth even more. Two recent news stories provide great examples of why. In the first, a landmark clinical study has shown that hearing aids can dramatically slow cognitive decline in high-risk (read: older) populations, a premise that most gerontologists had already long accepted. In the second, EssilorLuxottica, the world’s foremost eyewear company, announced the first hearables that will be integrated into eyeglasses.
Nobody wants to live with cognitive decline and this condition can’t be cured. But in OTC hearing aids, we now have an easy and affordable technology that has proven itself effective in slowing the onset by a whopping 48%. Now imagine trying to convince an elderly parent to buy hearing aids for just this reason. Some will be rational and grateful. Others will bristle that they hear just fine (if you’d only speak more clearly) and their cognition is completely intact and how dare you suggest otherwise? Some caretakers will continue to fight the good fight. Many others will give up.
On the other hand, 93% of people between the ages of 65 and 75 wear corrective lenses, and if hearing aids were invisible inside their glasses, there’d be much less objection. According to Luxottica, their invisible technology will remove “a psychological barrier that has historically stood in the way of consumer adoption of traditional hearing aids.” While no price has been announced for the hearable glasses, arriving in 2024, it’s a good bet that they’ll cost several thousand dollars.
OTC models with traditional form factors cost a small fraction of that. They’re likely even better at what hearing aids are supposed to do, and they’re available today.
Which one do you think will be easier to talk mom or dad into buying?
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Senior Partner Lew Brown oversees bluesalve partners' health tech practice. Lew has deep expertise in consumer IoT, consumer technologies and consumer goods, and excels in bringing new products and technologies to market.