April 09, 2020

Hack for your granny

by Vadim Barausov

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Tech could help older adults to survive very complicated life in times of the pandemic, so digital divide gap need to be closed.

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Lisa is 93 and lives in the village far from the city. As all seniors she is locked in her small home now due to quarantine. She still uses old beat-up Nokia with small buttons for calls and the mobile coverage is far from good there. That's what I've learned from yesterday's talk with Julia, manager in big telco, who is isolated in the city far from her granny. “I don't know how to help her, I can't say if she's really all right. We can't even establish communication and see her by Whatsapp”, cries Julia.

In 2018, for the first time in history, persons aged 65 or above outnumbered children under five years of age globally, according to UN. Today, there are 700 million people aged 65+, a number that is projected to reach 1.5 billion by 2050. And we are leaving them out of the digital world yet.

It shouldn't be the crisis to recognize that the digital divide for elders is real. As we're all learning how to work during lockdown, using Zoom or Google Hangouts, and ordering groceries through apps on our smartphones, and discussing on Facebook what is the best series to watch on Netflix in the age of coronavirus, the situation is not the same for elders.

They lack connectivity, first of all. They lack gadgets with UX/UI really suitable for them. They don't have geriatric e-health solutions. They lack knowledge and experience of how to be digital. Apart from that, innovations are really needed in home care and nursing homes too.

AgeTech as we see it is a rather big segment spreading from cognitive care apps to chatbots for elder care and from robot companions to smart mobility. It is growing and there is more talk started about it in the public couple of years ago. But it hasn’t reached its potential till COVID-19, a lot of solutions already available are not sufficiently implemented in general practice. Business, state, people only see the problems with the technology and elders, but don’t see the long term impact.

One of the complications with AgeTech is impressive generation gap – developers and startup founders are 20-30 years old male geeks, and consumers — mostly 60+ old women, so their lifestyles and user experience are radically different. These problems have to be highlighted everywhere, especially by community leaders. Startups should involve their target user groups into the projects, interview elders when they are developing a service, app or device.

Right now, elders are the key audience for innovations. All the power of AI, big data, machine learning has to be used for them fast. For example, there should be universal monitoring solutions - set of sensors from positioning to bio providing data for smart processing, so the system, connected with all the interested parties and data sources, can monitor the state of the elder, get patterns, alerts about incidents and deviations or even predict them. In this case, apparently, you will not be so worried about your granny alone.

The importance of AgeTech during COVID-19 couldn't be overlooked by broad-minded tech community. “I think it's a good reminder of the value of such tech. It's the category that periodically gets some attention. Generally speaking the attention that it gets is sort of fleeting”, said Brad Feld. VC at Foundry Group and co-founder of Techstars, top early-stage venture fund and startup accelerator.

“It's important especially in this environment, where a lot of elder people are isolated from their family, they don't have easy access to a lot of the resources they need. It's a lot clearer where the benefit of those things will be versus the theoretical opportunities. So my hope is that there's a lot of research and exploration and product development in AgeTech. It is in front of mine and this is for sure the situation that accelerates that”, he continued.

Brad Feld is not only the well-known tech investor and author, he is also the track lead at The Global Hack, online-hackathon started April 9. This event is uniting the global tech community in the fight against coronavirus. Developers, scientists, designers and other bright people are working on solutions and there are already ideas hacking elders' problems. This work will not only change the world for your loved ones, it will ensure your own long and happy life.