We Baby Boomers have gotten a lot of breaks.
We grew up in a prosperous time, synchronous with the birth of rock and roll, individualism-championing movements, and the Pill. And we’ve lived long enough to participate in the instant connectivity of people and knowledge.
And now, the generation that practically invented Youth™ will be able to effortlessly track — and possibly better manage than anyone in history — our getting old.
In fact, as with music, politics, and sex, it seems like the evolution of health technology into mobile sensors, remote doctor visits, and other affordable incarnations was synched to our evolution as a generation.
“The timing is perfect,” Current Analysis analyst Brad Shimmin — himself at the very tail end of Boomerdom — told us. Boomers are getting the technology we need to age gracefully, just as we are aging.
He also pointed to a common perception that Boomers “have a sense of optimism [and] are well equipped to deal with change,” two qualities useful in adopting new tech and new habits to help keep the motor running and the juices flowing.
Jody Holzman, AARP’s SVP of thought leadership and innovation, characterized Boomers as “expecting to be in control.”
“We grew up in a time when we had an impact on everything,” the 61-year-old Holzman told us. Wanting to be in control, he said, could drive Boomers’ interest in adopting whatever digital tools might help maintain control.
He also expressed a sense of optimism that makes healthy Boomers see themselves as younger than they are. “I play basketball. I play rock-and-roll guitar,” he pointed out.
The Luckiest Generation
Even if Boomers were not the right age or mindset, it would make sense for health tech to target The Luckiest Generation simply because of market size.
There are 78 million of us born between 1946 and 1964. By next year, about 45 percent of the U.S. population will be over 50 — including Boomers and the previous generation — and that chunk will represent the largest single demographic. Many other industrialized countries have a similar aging profile.
For healthcare, that’s a $20 billion+ market over the next three years, according to Parks Associates. It’s such an inviting market that AARP and UnitedHealthcare launched The Longevity Network this week as a hub for digital health ideas targeted at the 50+ market in general. Suggested categories — which target Boomers now and in their coming years — include medication management, aging with vitality, vital-sign monitoring, care navigation, emergency detection and response, physical fitness, diet and nutrition, social engagement, and behavioral/emotional health.
But what kind of digital health do Boomers actually want?
On a whiteboard during a brainstorming session in a startup, three broad categories of health gadgets and software — encompassing The Longevity Network’s nine categories for 50+ — might seem most appropriate to this tempting Boomer market: fitness, health and disease management, and age management.
Fitness is right up our alley, you would think.
After all, Boomers have been leaders of the fitness craze. Less than 24 percent of American adults exercised regularly in 1968, when the oldest Boomers were just hitting adulthood. By 1984, nearly 60 percent of Americans did.
But aging Boomers are another thing entirely. Today, only about one-third of Boomers exercise regularly, compared to nearly 50 percent for the previous generation. Half of Boomers don’t exercise at all these days. That still represents a market for, say, Fitbit, but don’t expect it to be the same market as for twenty-somethings.
Health and disease management would appear to have a larger potential. Obesity is more common among Boomers than in the previous generation, for instance — 39 to 30 percent. Only about 13 percent of Boomers report that they are in excellent health, compared to nearly a third for their parents at the same age.
A recent McKinsey report found that patients over 50 “want digital healthcare services nearly as much as their younger counterparts,” although older people were understandably more interested in services relating to acute and chronic conditions.
But Boomers differ from younger people with health concerns in how they expect to receive their digital health/disease management.
The same McKinsey report found that older users are not all that interested in smartphone apps for health management. (One assumes the same holds true for apps on, say, smartwatches or other small gadgets.) Older users interested in receiving these services prefer to get them through websites and email.
One reason: mobile device ownership. The Pew Research Internet Project reports that only about one-third of those aged 50 to 64 own a smartphone. For those 65+, it’s only 12 percent. However, 80 percent of AARP members currently own a computer, tablet or e-reader.
Many gadgets, of course, don’t need to provide health management, but can be one-trick ponies for monitoring specific health factors important to the kinds of health conditions common in Boomers — diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure among them.
The same Pew survey found, for instance, that 68 percent of those 50 to 64 track “their weight, diet, exercise routine, or other health indicator” by some means. For adults 65 and older, that figure was 81 percent. The market would seem to be ripe for gadgets that helped with those tasks, such as the iHealthLabs wireless blood pressure monitor.
And, although all Boomers are secretly 22 years old, there’s the matter of aging-in-place. AARP reports that 90 percent of seniors want to remain in their homes as they get old. As one gets older, living in one’s own environment is rife with issues, some of which can be addressed by inexpensive, easy-to-use, age management digital tools.
A startup called Lively, for instance, offers a smartwatch, activity sensors placed around the residence, and a hub that’s plugged into a power outlet. The system doesn’t require either a phone line or a Net connection.
A button push on the watch signals for help. There are also exercise helpers and, soon, ways to detect falls. Sensors placed on objects or appliances can help track when a pillbox is used, a refrigerator door is opened, or other daily routines are maintained. An online dashboard offers a quick assurance that all is well. It remains to be seen if such a monitoring device will be welcomed by Boomers as helping to maintain control, or viewed instead as eroding privacy and self-worth.
Miniaturized health sensors and remote doctor calls are not only critical to monitoring the health of elderly people, but they may well prove critical to the ability of American and other societies to cope with the tilt toward older populations that is being driven by Boomers.
By 2030, for instance, 20 percent of the U.S. will be 65 or older. By some estimates, remote monitoring could save nearly $200 billion for U.S. health institutions between 2010 and 2035.
In other words, mobile, inexpensive, and connected monitoring technology — including the expected rapid growth of tele-medicine like Doctor on Demand — is coming in the nick of time.
Just as everything else has for Boomers.