I spent last week in Chicago at the ASA Aging in America Conference. They invited me to lead a discussion on “Caregivers And Technology – What’s Going Wrong?” based on our Caregiver Journey research. And while I got to tee up the conversation with our data, the real gold was in the discussion that sprung up after the presentation.

Bottom line: We’re not solving the real problems that family caregivers face. And that means that they’re not forking out the $49 per month, or $199 purchase price, or whatever, to acquire the latest age tech solution.

Problem #1: Where to Start?

My mother-in-law needed a knee replacement. That meant we needed to find a good surgeon and a good hospital. But then, post-surgery, we also needed to cope with her memory loss – how could we be sure she remembered to take her meds? Do her rehab exercises? Her bedroom is on the second story; how could she climb the stairs with a walker? We had tried in-home care, but she kicked the lady out – she didn’t do things the way my mother-in-law wanted. And forget senior housing, while she can’t remember where she parked the car, she knows that they are carrying her out of her house in a pine box.

Med management…home remodeling…cooking…transportation… family shared calendar…and all in some format that an elderly lady would understand and agree to. There’s no “age tech” solution that would do everything we needed. We could piece together a solution from multiple products and service providers, but that’s complicated and expensive and overwhelming.

Problem #2: Whom to Trust?

I had this in my presentation, but our conversation went even deeper. When you’re facing a caregiving crisis and need to acquire a solution quickly, where do you go? There’s no “brand” in the aging products space (think Johnson & Johnson for baby products or Patagonia for outdoor gear). There’s no trusted source for product recommendations (think Kelly Blue Book for cars or Consumer Reports for appliances). Most people don’t have a trusted group of experienced caregivers to reach out to, the way a new mom might ask a mom of older children to recommend a stroller or car seat. There’s not even a place to go to print out a shopping list.

The problem is so big that people can’t even Google this stuff because they don’t know what the products are called.

Problem #3: Family Dynamics

I alluded to this in my personal story in Problem #1, but one of the ASA attendees had an even better story. She’s a social worker, and wanted to help a clearly stressed-out adult daughter caregiver of one of her clients. She gently suggested the elderly gentleman try a grocery delivery service that the local senior center was offering. “Why would I want that?” he asked. “My daughter goes shopping for me.”

Another attendee described the difference for her with caring for her seriously ill child and her elderly father. When the young daughter needed a shower chair, the mom went online to the Facebook group for people whose children had this particular medical issue and asked for recommendations. “I didn’t even think about it, I just did it,” she said. Yet when her father needed a shower chair, it never dawned on her to post a question on Facebook to seek recommendations. She felt it was her parental duty to find the best chair for her child, but did not recognize it as her purview to research one for her dad.

Older family members may bristle at suggestions from younger ones, especially when it means disrupting their lives. Younger ones may not feel empowered to make decisions on behalf of people who have been making adult decisions for themselves for 60 years or more. Everyone’s too embarrassed to talk about it. And age tech product companies expect people to view an ad on the Internet, click on the link, fill out a form, and pull out their credit card? Please…

So What’s the Solution?

If I had the magic bullet to solve this, I’d be pitching the several private equity guys I met last week who are circling the senior care space, not posting it on this blog! But I was encouraged by what I heard from:

  • GreatCall – With their acquisition of Lively, they are expanding further into the age tech space, and backing up their new products with real advertising campaigns that might actually be big enough to build their brand as the go-to technology company for senior care;
  • Johnson & Johnson – They are doing a lot of research into caregiving, and have the trust of Boomer women already;
  • AARP – I never thought I’d call AARP a “trusted brand”; I’m one of those AARP-eligibles who would never be caught dead with an AARP card, and the only friend I know who has one was given it as a joke. But I was impressed with the presenters from AARP and the thinking they’re putting into caregiving issues, and after all, when you think “aging” you think AARP;
  • Home Instead – This national franchise network is seriously investing in innovation, and they have a natural platform on which to build trust among people in need of assistance.

In fact, I believe so deeply that home care is the natural platform on which to build caregiving solutions that I’ll be leaving Caring.com to join Home Care Assistance, a company with a national presence in home care. I hope to connect with you all in my new position.

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