Image: The creation of apps and adapted digital spaces will help improve quality of life for elderly people. Credit: Pxfuel

By Danielle Maxwell  

There is a perception that that elderly people and technology do not mix well. However, rising life expectancy, delaying retirement age, and active aging are redefining this demographic and their role in an increasingly digitalized society. A population’s longevity will set the pace for many businesses, which will need to create digital services catering specifically to these consumers. Right now, children and grandchildren demand products for their family members. In the near future however, elderly clients will interface directly with companies and demand services adapted to their needs and to their way of using technology. 

In 2060, one in three Europeans will be over the age of 65, according to The Silver Economy, a report produced by Oxford Economics, the European Commission, and Technopolis. Spending by people over 50 will grow 5% annually, reaching 5.7 billion euros in 2025, which will represent 32% of EU GDP and 38% of employment. 

This demographic and economic change will spur the growth of the so-called silver economy, a concept that encompasses “the sum of all economic activity serving the needs of those aged 50 and over including both the products and services they purchase directly and the further economic activity this spending generates,” as explained in Growing the European Silver Economy, a report by the European Commission. The path to covering these needs must be guided by innovation to create technological applications and digital habitats that foster higher quality of life, according to the International Centre on Aging (CENIE). 

The AgeTech World 
Companies tend to exclude elderly people in their design process for digital products and services. Aurelia Pérez, Project Manager for Innovation and Strategy at Opinno, foresees a change in companies’ mentalities that “will begin treating this group as users who want to contract services for themselves.” This scenario has already given rise to the AgeTech world, dedicated to the creation of technologies that foster the wellbeing of this sector of society, keeping them in mind from the very first product design stages. 

This sector has emerged as older adults have increased their use of technology and the internet. In 2011, baby boomers began turning 65, and they have been the first generation of older adults to experience the technological revolution. “They tend to use digital services, but it is important to understand how they use them,” says Opinno UX Project Manager Laura García. 

For example, small text size, without much color contrast, and with complex designs create considerable barriers for these users. This is due, in part, to the loss of auditory and visual abilities and motor skills, according to “Usability for Seniors: Challenges and Changes,” a study produced by Nielson Norman Group. This is why, García says, aspects as basic as typing must be front of mind, and she adds that there are three strategies that will characterize silver economy products: 

  • Development of touch screens: Allowing you to change the size of the letters and icons on virtual keyboards, making them more accessible. 
  • Implementation of voice-activated technology: This offers easier interaction with the device, as it facilitates complex tasks such as preparing a shopping list or lowering the blinds in the case of people with reduced mobility.
  • Hybrid experience options: Provide alternatives so that users are not blocked in some steps, such as entering the card number to make a purchase. In this case, it is always good to include options such as phone calls and assistance.

From Robots to Finance Apps 
Telemedicine, virtual reality, and movement sensors are some of the trends that are emerging to specifically target elderly people. The healthcare sector is where these trends are most advanced, but it is not the only one incorporating changes.  

  • Health and wellness: The consumption of healthcare services increases among elderly populations. This is why medical products that can easily integrate into their routines become increasingly relevant. This is the case with PillDrill, a smart pill box that reminds users when to take their medication, registers mods, and scans RFID stickers on medication containers to control doses. Another example is Buddy, a wearable connected to an app created by Live Freely, a Californian company. This device combines predictive artificial intelligence (AI) systems, remote monitorization, and GPS to register vital signs, prevent falls, and avoid elderly people getting lost. 
  • Mobility: Cities and public spaces must also adapt to an increasingly older population. This is the objective behind a climbing robot at a residence in the Japanese city of Fujisawa. The device helps elderly people who cannot go up stairs or who do not have elevators in their building. Also of note is the Crosswalk app, developed by Dutch company Dynniq. The application uses a software based on GPS and movement sensors installed in traffic lights that offers extra time to elderly people or other pedestrians with mobility problems crossing the street. 
  • Finance: Some fintech tools are empowering technology to offer specialized services and address risks that these clients face. One example is EverSafe, which monitors bank accounts and credit cards and alerts users to unusual activity. For this, they have developed software that builds a personalized profile based on each person’s history. Another technology is Whealthcare Planning, capable of evaluating the decision-making capacity of this demographic and suggesting long-term financial plans. 
  • Entertainment: The services of this industry can help prevent loneliness and provide cognitive benefits. Viarama makes use of virtual reality technologies so users can discover tourist destinations or recreate personal experiences from the past. This technology is particularly aimed at schools, hospitals, and elderly residences. Separately, SingFit has created SingFit Prime, a program that helps users sing songs even if they lack musical talent. This technological solution employs music as therapy and has demonstrably improved communication abilities and the general wellbeing of those who participate. 

“To move among this new paradigm, it won’t be enough for companies to focus on the novelties in their own industry sector,” says Pérez. She believes that organizations should apply future foresight methodologies to identify movement in other sectors and recreate different scenarios, which can help foresee what the future’s elderly population will be like. This will be key to ensuring that the digital world is integrated with the aging process, so that technology and elderly people can get along better than it may initially appear.