Products for Elders — Ask Them First

mother, Rich, MartiI’ve written a number of times about 24-7 monitoring services  and personal safety devices. My mother-in-law was supposed to wear one around her neck for — well, 24 hours a day. Except that she didn’t. At first she wore it. Then she took it off with the rest of her jewelry each evening. Then she only wore it when we visited. Finally we cancelled the service, because she found the it was too intrusive.

When it comes to supporting elder parents, so much is about respecting their wishes and not assuming that your good idea is good for them. It’s also about asking what they want and how they wish to be helped.

Paula Span’s article To Reach Seniors, Tech Start-ups Must First Relate to Them describes the predicament well. The October 26, 2015 piece explains how ideas that people have for elder adult products  are often not at all successful and, more importantly, not what people want. She also writes about the preoccupation of many product developers with monitoring seniors — something that seems important to well-meaning adult children but not to that many seniors.     

We are in a period of data — data for education, data from our explorations, health data, and data from everything else we do. In my experience, older seniors could care less about data. While health data is a significant factor for keeping people of all ages healthy, the elders that I know do not want that much monitoring. Nor do they want so much of their data collected. A quote from the article, by San Francisco geriatrician Dr. Ken Covinsky addresses this all-the-time monitoring and the issues that can arise.

Our job is to make our patients’ health problems as little a part of their lives as possible, My fear is that if you make people conscious of falling all the time, they’ll just stop walking.

What older elders want is the ability to connect with real people (not voice mail) and to be called back promptly. I’ve watched older adults I know struggle to keep up with voicemail commands but get confused. Interestingly, I am usually impressed by phone calls to Social Security — where most of the time the phone calls are promptly answered by real people who work hard at understanding problems and concerns or otherwise provide simple instructions about having the people at Social Security return a phone call at a specific time.

As my mother-in-law pointed out when she had that personal safety device, “You’d think they could make it look like jewelry.”  I expect if it had come designed as a locket with a simple chain she would have worn it a lot more.

Paula Span points out that there is no substitute for talking with older adults sharing ideas, and getting their thoughts about those ideas. As I wrote in my April 2013 post, Businesses Profiting and Benefitting from Aging, it’s even more crucial to create products that are designed for everyone, but also have features designed for elder adults. Those are the products that elders really like!

Read Paula Span’s article.

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