Updated Feb 12, 2022 - Technology

"AgeTech" companies court digital seniors

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

As the pandemic has coaxed older people to get more nimble with technology— even trolling TikTok to check out their grandkids' posts — tech companies are increasingly catering to their needs.

Why it matters: For seniors, learning to shop online, enjoy social media and use VR headsets can beat back isolation and loneliness — particularly during COVID-19. And to marketers, wealthy retirees look like an attractive sales niche, so they're tailoring products and services accordingly.

Driving the news: A new report from Euromonitor lists "empowered elders" as a top-10 global consumer trend for 2022. "Businesses have an opportunity to tailor their digital experience to target and meet the needs of this expanded online audience," the firm notes.

  • Among people 60 and older, 60% visit social media sites at least once a week, and 21% play video games, Euromonitor found.
  • 82% own a smartphone.
  • "Alongside browsing and shopping online, Digital Seniors embrace virtual solutions for socializing, health screenings, finances and learning," according to the report.

A survey by Ericsson's ConsumerLab found that 7 in 10 seniors ages 65-74 were interested in trying out AR/VR headsets, primarily to pursue a skill or hobby, like cooking.

  • Nursing home residents are using VR headsets for virtual travel experiences.
  • 40% of older people want to use the digital world for "decorating their home virtually, experiencing sports or concerts, upgrading their home maintenance skills or to travel with a headset," Ericsson said in a blog post.
  • "One in 5 also see other possibilities, like going to a virtual restaurant, trying out sports themselves or playing VR adventure games."

Between the lines: AARP runs an accelerator program, the AgeTech Collaborative, to fund startups that are developing products for people 50 and older.

  • "Sitting at the intersection of longevity and technology, AgeTech includes products, services and experiences across industries that contribute to longer, healthier lives and empower people to choose how they live as they age," per the AgeTech Collaborative.
  • Companies in the Collaborative's portfolio include Litesprite, which makes a "clinically-validated mental health video game," and Hank, which brings "the benefits of living in a retirement home into an aging loved one's home."

The other side: Companies that sell old-fashioned medic alert buttons — of the "I've fallen and I can't get up" variety — have used the pandemic as an opportunity to vastly expand their services.

  • Customers started activating the button more frequently after the pandemic started — not because of an emergency, but because they wanted someone to talk to or needed help reaching a doctor, handyman or plumber.
  • As a result, companies like LifeStation are offering concierge-style menus to seniors who've been cut off from normal activities.
  • These "extras" can include arranging a ride to the doctor or contacting a client's niece to arrange a catch-up phone chat — all activated by pressing the alert button and talking to someone in the call center.

"We're designed to call emergency services, but we'll call anybody you want us to," said Matt Solomon, general manager of LifeStation.

  • They're starting to get into push notifications, like letting customers know that it's time to take their morning pills.
  • "We're really selling into the idea that this is more of a lifestyle device, this is not just for emergency monitoring," Solomon said.

The bottom line: Technology aimed at seniors was getting more sophisticated before COVID, but the pandemic has given it a big push forward.

Editor's note: This story originally published on Feb. 7.

Go deeper