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The Age-Tech Market Helping Seniors Stay at Home
By Katie Cheng
Ring, ring, ring.
“Hello! Hello? … Grandma?”
“How are you?!”
“Hi! Grandma, I can’t see your face!”
“Give me one second.”
The phone spins and shifts, showing the ceiling of the room before dropping to the ground. My grandmother sighs, straining until my aunt retrieves the phone and rests it on the table. Our conversation resumes, with my aunt nearby to adjust the angle and toggle the volume when necessary.
These conversations became more difficult when my grandma moved into a senior home. There was rarely a caregiver available to take the role of my aunt, and I had fewer opportunities to speak with her. Each time we visited her, my dad tried helping her change settings or devices that would make it easier for her to call us — even building a contraption that sort of resembled a tripod — but there was never an ideal solution that made it easier for her.
On the drive home, I often wondered why there wasn’t an easy answer. With connectivity at the forefront of tech advancements, why was it still such a challenge to make a simple video call?
As it happens, a sect of the tech industry is dedicated to similar matters concerning the aging population. Known as age-tech, it includes both hardware and software technology that is designed with the help of and targeted towards the elderly population. Its ultimate goal — and biggest sign of success — is improving the lives of the elderly.
A Growing Market for Aging
Age-tech companies may not be as well-known as the AI or social media companies that we constantly see in the headlines, but they directly impact a large segment of the population. Indirectly, they play an important role in even more lives.
More people are growing older and living longer. By 2050, more than 20% of the population — 2 billion people — will be over the age of 60. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), people over 50 spend over $7 trillion on consumer goods and services. As younger generations age, they tend to spend more than their predecessors — by 2050 (when members of Gen Z begin to reach the over 50 category), spending is expected to reach over $27 trillion.
Despite the common sentiment that “old people don’t know how to use tech,” elderly people actually spend more on technology than their younger counterparts. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated tech spending, with people 50 and over spending an average of $912 on technology in 2023 compared to $394 in 2019. Seniors are spending more on technology for entertainment, communication, and — as highlighted in this article — their health.
Companies that create specific solutions for the elderly have a reliable, growing, and global customer base. Regardless of country or culture, everyone can benefit from solutions that make living life as a senior easier.
Hardware for the Home
The elderly are willing to spend on tech solutions that work well for them, but what are they exactly looking for? Despite being heavy spenders, seniors are also practically-minded — they won’t settle for products that are “just fine.”
Seniors express a strong desire to “age in place” versus in a senior home or other care center. According to the AARP, almost 90% of seniors prefer to stay at home as they age. Aging at home offers many benefits, allowing seniors to continue living a familiar lifestyle and save money. 20% of seniors own their homes and therefore do not have to make monthly mortgage payments, a significant reduction in costs as opposed to a senior care center.
This desire to age at home presents an opportunity for startups focused on the elderly. Homes are not designed for the changing needs of seniors as they grow older, and startups have a valuable opportunity to capitalize on the new demands of seniors who want to stay in their homes.
Belgian startup Nobi combines technology with furniture to create safer homes for seniors. Their Nobi lamp uses AI to detect falls and alert caregivers, and it also monitors the coughing patterns of seniors to catch potential health conditions early on. The company has raised €13M from multiple age-tech-focused funds, with the mission of helping “the elderly live at home on their own as long as possible without a care in the world.”
One of the main concerns of seniors who want to age at home is maintaining awareness of their health. Casana is creating a device that monitors heart health vitals, in a bit of an unsuspecting way. In May 2023, the company received FDA clearance for its Heart Seat — a smart toilet seat measuring heart rate, hemoglobin levels, and blood pressure. This data is uploaded to an online database accessible by clinicians, allowing seniors to remain in the comfort of their own homes without sacrificing the health monitoring that becomes more important as they age.
While I find the senior-focused home furniture creative and compelling, it would be remiss not to mention the various software startups that address another key concern of seniors: staying connected and maintaining interpersonal connections.
The University of Michigan conducted a National Poll on Healthy Aging in January 2023, finding that more than a third of older adults felt a “lack of companionship,” lower than during COVID-19 but higher than pre-pandemic levels. Papa’s platform views “companion care” as adjacent to physical health, providing plans for seniors to meet with younger “Papa Pals” in-person or over the phone. The company was most recently valued at $1.4 billion after a Softbank-led Series D round in 2021 as it aims to expand its virtual care platform and bring in more healthcare partners.
While Papa pairs seniors with younger counterparts for companionship, other platforms provide communities for older adults to stay connected with one another. Hank is a social platform for seniors to find friends and meet new people, embracing the correlation between friendships and happiness longevity.
More healthcare providers, along with insurance companies, are recognizing the importance of mental health and the detrimental effects of poor emotional health on physical well-being. A study performed by Papa concluded that 60% of its regular users who had identified as severely lonely reported lower levels of loneliness after nine months of using the platform.
However, Papa and other social-based startups have had to grapple with disturbing issues. After numerous allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, by both “pals” and seniors, the company faces complaints about the screening process. The incident reports underscore a constant security issue that these companies must address if they want to make their platforms safe for users.
Age-tech may not get the same attention as “hotter” startups in the AI or fintech space, but it is becoming an increasingly attractive focus for venture capital firms both large and small. Techstars invests in early-stage startups through its various accelerators, and their Techstars Future of Longevity Accelerator, which began in 2021, is an extension of the firm’s long standing interest in age-tech companies.
Many startups in the space look to gain funding from healthcare companies, who have accelerators and funds dedicated to agetech solutions. AARP’s AgeTech Collaborative brings startups, investors, and enterprises together to advance the growth of agetech startups. The Centre for Aging + Brain Health offers funding and support for startups targeting emotional and cognitive well-being in seniors. The benefits of these funds go beyond financial support, making it easier for startups to validate their products and services among target customers.
This generation of seniors is using technology more than ever before, and they want it to become a part of their lives as they grow older. 83% of seniors today own a smartphone, compared to just 18% a decade ago. Succeeding generations are already familiar and often dependent on technology. It goes without saying that our use of devices is not going away anytime soon.
Although seniors are incorporating technology into their daily lives, startups still face a challenge in finding users who are willing to put their trust in their products. Security is a key concern across both hardware and software startups: hardware startups often log and store seniors’ health data, and apps that connect seniors to others must exercise caution in the people they are allowing onto their platform. Age-tech-focused accelerators and programs led by senior interest groups allow startups to achieve proof of concept with the users they want to target. In addition, startups are partnering with Medicare providers to ensure that seniors are able to easily find and access their services.
Age-tech startups have the opportunity to capitalize on the growing market for senior-focused solutions. There is demand for both hardware and software startups, especially those that are centered around making the lives of seniors who want to age at home easier. But unlike the more consumption-heavy younger generations, seniors are perhaps the most picky, leaving little room for “good enough” or less practical products.