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New Tech Against Old Age: The Race is On

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Jargon alert. You're about to get an earful of the term Active Aging. It's a term meant to talk about aging as a process that you control and act on. It's about seizing opportunities for a healthier, more engaged lifestyle than those of the elder generations before.

For marketers, it conjures images of smiling, gray-haired, crow-footed but wise-looking people out and about in the world. Contrast this to yesteryear's picture of old age, snoozing on the porch rocker and you've got the active aging picture.

Part of this is a little more than sugarcoating the inevitable process of aging. There's something about the term active that makes it sound as if it were a chosen condition. But once you get past the fact that there's no pretty word for aging, it's clear that words like: independent and autonomous are much more enticing than their semantic alternatives.

The World Health Organization, in a paper published about active aging, suggests that "the silent generation" - people in their 70's and 80's -- are making way for this new, more vociferous generation that's more likely to be better educated and long-lived.

Technology companies are among the biggest beneficiaries of the active aging movement. Only they're just starting to realize their place. A new study on Active Aging conducted by the Consumer Technology Association says that the market of elderly plus their caregivers represents a $24.4 billion opportunity in 2015 and will grow to $42.7 billion in 2020. That number reflects seniors and their caregivers, making it a wider audience segment than many tech firms realize.

Citing an almost perfect storm, the study points out that baby boomers (about 76 million strong) are hitting retirement age in droves. And that assisted living, senior centers and other facilities are not keeping up with the demand. Finally, the costs associated with aging are astronomical. Anything that can be done to help keep the senior population healthy and living in their own homes is a win.

The tsunami set by the growing ranks of retirees plus the dearth of affordable solutions sets the perfect stage for technology. The maturation of the internet of things - the ability for smart products to communicate with each other and their users, are starting to make aging in place a practical alternative. With driverless or assisted driver cars, programmable security and heating systems, quantified self-monitoring, apps like pill reminders and more, we're inching closer to providing seniors with ways to stay in touch, keep safe, and monitor health and wellness and keep up with their home remotely.

The CTA study goes on to break down the three segments of the tech marketplace that will be most involved with the aging community and the climate that is making it a ripe moment.

That said, the challenges are many. Technology is moving fast but for many, old age is moving faster. Regulation and legislation can't keep up when it comes to deciding whether an app is a reimbursable prescription or a gaming machine that can provide physical therapy. Costs like paying $100+ for a monitoring device or a monthly fee for an emergency alert system is often an alien concept to seniors on a budget.

But those challenges will be overcome. To my mind, the single largest barrier is that most people haven't heard about these solutions, don't think of them as specific to seniors, or have no idea where to try to purchase solutions. Companies like Samsung, LG, Philips and others are entering the market, which should lead to more awareness. And slowly people are beginning to understand that Uber and Task Rabbit can provide useful services for seniors as well as the general population. I've only seen one or two good online sites or even lists of products for Active Aging. If technology is going to be a part of the solution, it's going to need to more actively pursue the active aging audience.

Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today's digital consumer.