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Old is not necessarily elderly as seniors want both lifespan and health span

Connected Health panel warns tech companies not to dismiss the marketplace power of those aged 50 and older.

Susan Morse, Senior Editor

Debra Whitman of AARP, Joseph Kvedar of Partners Healthcare, moderator John Crawford and Louise Aronson, professor, UCSF, discuss aging at Connected Health.Debra Whitman of AARP, Joseph Kvedar of Partners Healthcare, moderator John Crawford and Louise Aronson, professor, UCSF, discuss aging at Connected Health.

Ageism exists in healthcare as everywhere. Companies, especially those offering new technology, may not market to consumers over the age of 65, or even 55, believing "they won't get it," according to Joseph Kvedar, vice president, Connected Health, Partners Healthcare, speaking at the Connected Health Conference in Boston on Thursday.

But organizations that dismiss those over a certain age are missing a very viable market. If people over the age of 50 made their own country, they would represent the third largest economy, according to experts speaking at "Planning for an Aging Population - Policy, Economics & Culture."

Anyone who doesn't have the 50-plus market in mind is missing out on 61 cents of every dollar, said Debra Whitman, chief public policy officer for AARP.

"We're shocked that people don't see this as a huge marketplace opportunity," she said.

Kvedar said someone who worked for a consumer technology company told him the company doesn't manufacture anything for anyone over the age of 55, because it figures, "they won't get it." This person, the oldest employee there, was 42 years old, he said.

Seniors are assumed not to be living lives, said Louise Aronson, professor at UCSF Division of Geriatrics and author of "Elderhood." For instance, heart rate monitors don't take into account that rates may be high because seniors are having sex, she said.

"It doesn't occur to people designing technology that if they're having a high heart rate they're having sex," Aronson said. "People assume they're not living lives."

People are living longer, but aging is not just about increasing the lifespan, it's about increasing the health span, Whitman said.

The social question of our time is life and time equality, which is rarely discussed, she said. People don't want to just live longer; they want quality of life and control over their own lives.

Considerations such as the social determinants of health are factors into whether this happens. Where an individual lives maybe matters most of all, but if she could give everyone a magic pill, it would be one for education.

Women in the top 1% of income distribution live 10 years longer than women in the bottom half, Whitman said.

In the healthiest, long-life scenario, people need a sense of purpose, social connections and physical activity, said Kvedar.

The population of those 65 and older is growing as Baby Boomers age. In 2020, there will be more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 5, and this gap is only going to widen, Kvedar said.

Don't assume because someone is old that they're elderly. And don't assume that someone over the age of 65 would rather be playing golf than working, he said.

What's needed for change is policy, economic pressure and a cultural campaign.

"We don't want to equate youth with better," Aronson said, "because it sets everyone up to fail."

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com