Scoping out the Silver Tech boom for savvy seniors

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Connected health products that can keep seniors comfortable, informed or in close communication with their grown children and care providers are eyeballed by product reviewers at Tech50plus.com.

“What a drag it is getting old,” Mick Jagger first whined on “Mother’s Little Helper” from the Rolling Stones’ 1965 Aftermath album.

“Hope I die before I get old,” the Who’s Roger Daltrey growled the same year on “My Generation.”

Ah, but for those of us who first heard those plaints way back when and are still walking this good Earth, getting older ain’t so bad. Being part of the huge baby boom generation even has its advantages. We have numerical clout, savings, and Social Security, which adds up to significant buying power. And needs that must be met.

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So lots more attention is now being paid to the bulging 50-plus populace — from companies  that customize goods and services for it, to retailers such as Hammacher Schlemmer that court it, to websites such as Tech50plus.com that support and chronicle it. All are on a mission to keep us healthy and happy.

One of the more enduring direct-mail and online retailers, 170-years-young Hammacher Schlemmer used to offer just a few novelties for seniors. Remember big-button telephones and oversized TV remote controls?

Now, a large share of Hammacher’s “best of the best” wellness and entertainment-focused products address the Silver Tech market full bore. And the “core” of the company’s audience  — tapped with mailings of 50 million catalogs annually and a strong online presence — is “10 years older than it was in the 1980s and ’90s,” director of merchandising Stephen Farrell said, falling heaviest in the 50- to 70-year-old set “who thankfully keep coming back for more.”

“People are living longer and staying active,” Farrell said. “You know that cliché about ’60 being the new 50′, and ’70 being the new 60′? There really is some truth to it.”

On the downside, looking marvelous and not acting mature can get complicated. “You may have a nice car but your back is hurting” — reason for Hammacher’s high-tech Heated LED Back Pain Reliever, an antidote first developed by NASA and proven in hospital studies. “Or you may go out and play 18 holes of golf but afterward your feet are killing you.” Reason to lend your legs and tootsies to the Hammacher Schlemmer-exclusive Circulation Improving Foot and Calf Massage System. Akin to devices prescribed for bad circulation, it offers medical-grade deep-tissue shiatsu massage, compression, and heat for a mere $259.95.

Hammacher also sells multiple down-sized, foldaway exercise machines “small enough to hide in a closet or under the bed,” the company exec said, as well as lots of footwear offering aid and comfort to plantar fasciitis sufferers, voice-clarifying listening devices (without FDA approval, these cheap alternatives can’t be called hearing aids, though that will soon change), plus electronic devices to transfer film slides and home movies to digital files or preserve old VHS recordings on DVDs.

Enabling tech is likewise a major focus with Tech50plus.com, a site steered by seasoned journalist and public-policy wonk Gary Kaye. “My feeling is that going into [our] 50s, 60s, and 70s, most of us have not lost our passion for tech,” he said. “What we have lost is some of our eyesight, some of our hearing. But mostly what we’ve lost is the patience to deal with stuff that doesn’t work right.”

That’s the starting point for Tech50plus reviews and features. “Every time we pick something up —  a tablet, a smartphone, an e-bike, or a piece of travel gear — we’re asking, ‘Will this work for our audience? Is it 50-plus friendly, what’s the frustration factor, and is it worth the money? Is the owner’s manual poorly written, or do you need a magnifying glass to read it?  When you can’t get it going, is the tech support responsive? Or will that product wind up in a drawer, never used?’ ”

Connected health-care products, a fast-growing category that covers everything from fitness trackers to remote monitoring of chronic conditions, earns special study at Tech50plus.com.  With not enough local doctors to serve the growing senior population, Kaye sees great promise in telehealth consults with patients (using tablets, phones or computers),  “which are now approved for payment by Medicare for services like follow-up consultations, psychotherapy, and behavioral counseling for diabetes and obesity.” And with big guns such as Intel and Qualcomm on board, lots more med-tech is brewing — such as voice-activated data entry that “will free doctors to actually look at you instead of their computer screens” and “disaggregated” Big Data analysis of medical reports, “which will speed disease cures with machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

And though some seniors are frightened by the notion of autonomous (self-driving) cars ruling the roads, Kaye embraces the plan: “It will be terrific for the growing number of people living into their 90s who want to stay mobile but really shouldn’t be driving.”