We are two people from the tech sector who believe in its power to change lives. We’re also two of the millions of Americans who have witnessed the challenges of caring for elderly family members–challenges that could have been alleviated through innovation. One of us, Renee, remembers how, for her aging grandmother, once-easy tasks like getting dressed turned into 30-minute struggles. The other, Jason, helped with his granddad as the proud family provider relied on relatives for full-time care in his final years.
While “cutting-edge technology” and “senior citizens” aren’t often talked about in the same breath, we believe there has never been a greater need–or greater opportunity–for these two conversations to converge. What’s more, we think a lot of lives will improve when they do.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed major cracks in America’s caregiving system. How many of us know someone who is older, vulnerable, and isolated at home, cut off from social services and basic human interaction? Or an older adult living with an essential worker who is regularly exposed to the virus? How many fear for a loved one in a nursing home or long-term care facility, knowing that two out of every five Covid-19 deaths in the United States have occurred in these settings?
The task of finding new, affordable solutions to support older Americans and their caregivers may have taken on new urgency in recent months, but it’s not a new problem. For decades, our caregiving system has failed to keep up with a changing society in which more people have to contend with aging parents, the needs of their children, and the demands of their jobs all at the same time. A recent report found that 48 million people in the U.S.–mostly women–care for another adult.
We know that most people consider their caregiving responsibilities deeply meaningful–after all, it’s one of the most powerful ways we can express our love for one another. But, for many, this work can also be emotionally, financially, and even physically draining.
Government action on this issue is essential, but entrepreneurs can help. Technology has changed everything from how we meet to how we date to how we shop. Now we need it to change how we take care of one another as we age–to provide greater health, safety, and dignity for older Americans and greater help for the people who love and look after them.
Interest in this sector is growing, but a lot more innovation and investment are needed. In fact, in 2018, investors put more private capital into companies that care for pets than companies that care for people as they age.
That’s a huge market failure. Caring for older Americans is a $131 billion opportunity–roughly equivalent to the market for the global gaming industry. And it’s only going to get bigger. An estimated 73 million people are part of the Baby Boomer generation, and an average of 10,000 people in the U.S. turn age 65 every day. Globally, people 65 and over are the fastest growing age (and consumer) group. Older adults are living longer; they’re also spending money. The AARP notes that people age 50 and older will contribute $28 trillion to the economy by 2050. And this figure doesn’t include what caregivers have spent–and will spend–to support them.
The good news is that entrepreneurs are ready to step up. Through our work at the Techstars Future of Longevity Accelerator, we’ve gotten to know some of the innovators who are leveraging their creativity and their own personal experiences to develop products and services that can make aging in America a better experience for everyone involved.
Many of their startups are focused on helping adults preserve their independence and maintain social connections as they get older. For example, Candoo Tech provides tech support to older people, helping them with daily activities from Zooming with their grandkids to resetting passwords. Another company, Naborforce, connects older adults with community members who act as “backup daughters and sons,” whether that means running errands or just keeping them company. Meanwhile, Authored designs clothes specifically to make dressing easier for older people, and Braze Mobility offers a high-tech sensor to help wheelchair users avoid accidents.
Other startups are leveraging technology to help caregivers keep seniors healthy, safe, and engaged. Rezilient, for example, spares older adults a trip to the doctor’s office by enabling physicians to remotely perform physical exams, and Connect Care Hero’s “Family” app allows relatives to stay up-to-date on the activities of their loved ones living in long-term care facilities, creating a higher quality of life for the entire family.
The pandemic has made clear that we need new solutions to America’s caregiving crisis. Entrepreneurs with bold ideas to improve how we care for older people deserve mentorship, training, and resources to deliver on their vision. Many of these ideas could have helped our families. Maybe instead they’ll help yours.
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