Seniors with Hearing Loss are Now a Tech Industry Focus

Did you see that comedy sketch / movie scene / television episode making fun of the senior with hearing loss?

It’s really no laughing matter!

According to the National Institutes of Health, one in three older adults between 65 and 74 years old have hearing loss and nearly half of those who are 75 or older have difficulty hearing.

Because hearing loss in older adults can lead to isolation, loneliness, and depression, solutions are important to the well-being of our senior loved ones, especially those who want to age in place.

Unfortunately, fear of being seen as one of those humorous “old people” — and even seen as having diminished mental capabilities — make many seniors hesitant to admit their hearing issues.

Of course, a fear of having to spend thousands on traditional hearing aids feeds the denial of many.

There must be solutions acceptable to more seniors, right?

New Tech Hearing Solutions

We have long been interested in solutions for those with hearing loss after seeing up close what loss of that sense can mean to individuals’ lives.

Fortunately the tech industry, as we saw all over CES 2019, is finally recognizing hearing loss as a problem they can address creatively – – and, for many seniors, at a lower cost.

There is even a buzzword for it – – “hearables.”

Traditional Hearing Aids

Yes, the traditional hearing aid companies were there, with continued advancements in their products. Digital technology has enabled hearing aids to do so much more in providing clarity and bringing returning hearing to those with severe and profound losses.

In addition to high prices (Medicare does not cover them, though some supplemental plans may), the requirement to purchase most hearing aids through hearing specialists rather than online holds some back from buying them. While the arguments for professional assistance with these complicated devices make sense, this process also is seen as keeping the cost of hearing aids high.

Those who checked out hearing aids before and decided they weren’t right for them might want to take another look. New aids have better sound quality and some are nearly invisible, addressing two of the concerns we have heard most.

Earbud Functionality for Hearing Loss

What we found most interesting were the innovation approaches of several developers of ear buds, those headphone replacements that go right into the ear of users, not unlike traditional hearing aids.

Those developers were touting the ability of their devices to enhance sound for those with hearing loss, often through a companion smartphone app (yet another way smartphones are making themselves essential to seniors’ lives).

Not lost on us is the irony that devices seen as causing hearing loss in many can be used to overcome that loss.

We love the idea seniors — or those of any age with hearing loss — can overcome their loss with devices that have become almost ubiquitous instead of needing a hearing solution they may see as coming with a stigma attached (we hate acknowledging a stigma, which we see as wrong and narrow minded, but we have been told by many they don’t want to be seen wearing hearing aids for that reason).

This is an area we want to investigate further and hope to test some devices and report further to you on their effectiveness. They seem like a solution that will find appeal with many and will hopefully provide real benefits.

Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants have long been a solution for those of all ages with moderate to profound hearing loss who are not getting sufficient benefit from hearing aids.

Have you heard of them before? Rather than amplify sound, as hearing aids do, cochlear implants replace the function of the damaged parts of the inner ear and send sound signals to the brain.

Advances in digital technology have also done much for cochlear implants, providing gains in functionality while also improving the visual aspects of the devices.

We have followed these devices for many years and think they are worth considering for those who can’t get the quality of sound they want from other devices.

Excited About the Future of Hearing Tech

We are excited to see so much attention given to solutions for hearing loss by the technology industry. Older adults and those who care for and about them will benefit.

Sure, it’s easy to say the tech industry is finally recognizing the exploding market size and buying power wielded by older adults. That’s what it takes to get the investment that leads to innovation and products to solve problems.

We look forward to seeing, at CES 2020, the solutions another year innovation in hearables brings to older adults with hearing loss.

Survey Closer Look — Insights on Tech from Seniors Who Are Caregivers

As we often hear and read, the senior (65+) population is growing rapidly, more so than any other age group.

What you may not realize is that the number of senior family caregivers is also rising rapidly.

One in five adult caregivers, or more than 8 million in all, are seniors, according to the 2015 report Caregiving in the US from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Yet we seldom — if ever — see any research that considers the needs of older caregivers.

Even a recent report from the Consumer Technology Association, which we feel has been making real strides in consideration of older adults in their research, capped the age on the “caregivers” segment of their study at 64.

Given all of this, it was particularly gratifying to us that half of the responses to our recent technology survey were from seniors who consider themselves to be caregivers.

We feel the insights from and needs of these senior caregivers are important enough to merit a closer look on their own.

What the Survey Is — and Isn’t

This survey was conducted to provide us insight into our readership for purposes of planning our future technology coverage. As such, we make no claims that it is a statistically valid sampling of family caregivers — or even of those who visit Senior Care Corner®.

It is, though, an indication of the opinions of those in our audience who were kind enough to take the time to tell us what they think.

That is important to us and very much appreciated.

We also understand and will take into account that those who responded to the survey — and those who visit Senior Care Corner overall — are already, at a minimum, using the technology needed to connect to the web and may be more attuned to tech than other older adults and family caregivers.

Now that we have an understanding, onto the results of the survey.

The following survey results reflect those respondents who were 65+ and identified as family caregivers.

Question 3: Respondents Level of Tech Use

We were somewhat surprised to see just over half of the senior caregivers consider themselves to be avid users of digital technology, slightly more than the younger survey respondents.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, since tech users may have been more likely to respond to our online survey, but it is inconsistent with the widely held perception seniors and tech are not a good mix.

Then again, we have been saying for a while that perception is wrong.

Question 4: Respondents Role with Technology

As the chart below reflects, the senior caregiver survey respondents reflect a broad range of experience and roles with technology in their homes.

Just about half of those responding indicated they are the primary purchasers and implementers of technology in their own homes, as well as the troubleshooters, with a fair number indicating they have the same role in the homes of others.

The flip side is that about half of the respondents rely on someone else to take the lead on technology in their homes.

These responses tell us we have to keep in mind the full range of roles in our technology reporting.

Question 5: Areas of Concern with Technology

With 2 of 5 senior caregivers listing it, in line with respondents overall, data privacy is clearly the greatest technology concern. There is good reason for that, of course, but security concerns do not seem to have deterred them from using tech.

Interestingly, these caregivers are a third less likely to say technology costs too much than are younger respondents. They are also less than half as likely to feel tech is too complicated.

Given their responses, including the 1 in 4 who have no concerns, senior caregivers should be on the radar of tech companies.

This is not to ignore the data privacy issue, which we all share. We plan to respond to the survey feedback by providing more information on safe and secure use of digital technology.

Question 6: Respondents’ Technology Interest Areas

While senior caregivers expressed interest in learning more about the full range of technologies in the survey, their interests were clearly focused in the areas of smartphones and tablets, home health devices, and home security. These are the areas that are currently the most developed of the tech areas and provide readily-identifiable benefits to both senior caregivers and those for whom they care.

Given that senior caregivers express receptivity to using tech overall, it may be they will need only to see a demonstration of the benefits of other technologies for their interest to rise. We will continue reporting on these areas to give them a chance to decide for themselves.

Question 7: Respondents’ Learning Preferences

This question was very important to us in planning our future delivery of information on Senior Care Corner, as we want to present information in a way that is preferred by our audience and therefore most beneficial to them.

Senior caregivers expressed clear preferences for information communicated in written articles and video. According to these responses, our podcast was not the best way to reach this older group.

The senior caregivers’ preference for articles and videos is consistent with what younger respondents told us, while the seniors’ interest in podcasts and webinars was much lower.

What We Learned from Senior Caregivers

While we are keeping in mind the survey is not scientific, we can’t help but be excited about the responses from the senior caregivers.

Clearly there are many in this group who are both users of technology and interested in learning more. We plan on continuing to feed their interest with our tech coverage with practical insights that will provide benefits for both them and those for whom they care.

Also in mind is the reality there are likely other senior caregivers who did not respond and whose need to see technology’s benefits may be even greater. Hopefully we will get their feedback over time.

We hope the positive response to technology of senior caregivers is also being noticed by the tech companies, which will hopefully be further motivated to develop solutions to the problems of this group and demonstrate the benefits of those solutions.

Senior Care Corner looks forward to learning about those solutions and keeping you up to date!

Survey Results — Family Caregivers Provide Technology Insights

The results of our technology survey are complete.

That 474 of you who took the time to let us know what you think is truly appreciated!

We are going to spend some time digging into your responses in order to figure out just what we can learn and apply to the future of technology reporting at Senior Care Corner®.

In future articles we will discuss some of the detailed insights from the survey responses and how we’ll apply them. In the meantime, we want to present a summary of responses to each of our questions.

But first a little background discussion . . .

What the Survey Is — and Isn’t

Senior Care Corner has put a focus on technology for seniors and their family caregivers from the beginning. Of course, several years ago there was not nearly as much to cover as there is today.

As we have been reporting for some time, especially after covering CES® 2019, there is a great deal of technology in place and in the pipeline that can and will benefit older adults and their caregivers.

With so much technology available today and more on the way, we know we can’t fully cover all of it in the depth family caregivers need. The survey is our attempt to learn where we should focus our coverage to best meet your needs. We will let you know the specifics of what we learned.

We realize this survey is not a statistically valid sampling of family caregivers or even of those who visit Senior Care Corner. It is, though, an indication of the opinions of those in our audience who were kind enough to take the time to tell us what you think. That is important to us.

We also understand and will take into account that those who responded to the survey — and those who visit Senior Care Corner overall — are already, at a minimum, using the technology needed to connect to the web and may be more attuned to technology than other older adults and family caregivers.

Now onto the results of the survey.

Question 1: Age of Survey Respondents

Responses to the first survey question are consistent with our understanding of the Senior Care Corner audience based on comments and communications we’ve received over time.

While we are pleased to receive the confirmation, we were hoping to get more feedback from those who are younger in order to understand their needs as well. After all, there are already many younger family caregivers, many of whom may not see themselves as such, and a lot more who will at some point find themselves in that role, supporting parents, grandparents, and other loved ones.

 

Question 2: Caregiving Role of Respondents

This question is part of our effort to better understand the caregiving role, and thus the needs, of our audience. As expected, a large majority of respondents are caregivers to older adults.

Not lost on us are the responses of those who have older family members but don’t consider themselves caregivers. As we know and frequently discuss, those respondents might still be family caregivers without realizing they fill that role for a loved one. They may also have a role in the selection and implementation of technology solutions for senior loved ones.

We also appreciate that we have readers who are receiving care themselves and keep their needs in mind.

 

Question 3: Respondents Level of Tech Use

We weren’t sure what to expect in response to this question and were a little surprised that half of respondents said they are avid users of technology devices. Maybe we should not have been, since tech users may have been more likely to respond, though a significant share are already seniors.

This is consistent with research we have seen from others and our own anecdotal evidence indicating technology use by older adults is growing.

 

Question 4: Respondents Role with Technology

As the chart below reflects, respondents to the survey reflect a broad range of experience and roles with technology in their homes.

We find it interesting that half of the respondents to the survey have very significant roles with technology while a significant number are tech users but rely on others to set up and maintain it. We will continue to strive to meet the needs of both with our reporting.

 

Question 5: Areas of Concern with Technology

We find it interesting that, while respondents report a broad range of concerns with digital technology in their homes, one in four reported having no concerns.

Not surprisingly, the most commonly reported concern was data privacy, which has gotten a lot of discussion over the last year, with significant coverage of what companies such as Facebook and Google do with what they learn about us from our internet activities.

We hope tech companies take note that one in three respondents share concern about the cost of technology.

 

Question 6: Respondents Technology Interest Areas

We were pleased to learn respondents have interest in a broad range of technologies, though that will continue to challenge us in our coverage.

It is not surprising to see the greatest interest in the areas of mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) and home health devices, as we expect those to be areas providing the greatest benefit to independent-living seniors.

While there is clearly less interest right now in caregiving robots and digital companions, we will likely continue to follow those technology areas, which are still relatively immature and their benefits not yet well developed or publicized. We believe these technologies will take some of the load off family caregivers while improving life for seniors.

 

Question 7: Respondents Learning Preferences

This question was very important to us in planning our future delivery of information on Senior Care Corner.

It does not surprise us that almost two-thirds of our readers prefer their information via written articles and will continue to provide those.

Because half of respondents stated a preference for video delivery of information, we will be moving more in that direction in the future.

We have been evaluating the future of our podcast, so the interest expressed in podcasts by just one in five respondents is valuable to us in that evaluation.

 

Other Feedback We Received

It means a lot to us that 474 of you took the time to respond to our survey. That number is as meaningful to us as any of the survey responses themselves.

Still, not all of the valuable feedback we received was in the form of survey responses.

We received a number of comments, both directly and through social media, indicating there are some who do not see technology as being related to caring for seniors.

While we clearly disagree, we appreciate those comments, as they let us know there is still a need for basic communication of the roles technology can play in the lives of both seniors and their family caregivers.

It is comments such as those that help keep us grounded. We are, after all, not advocates of technology per se, but advocates for the family caregivers of senior loved ones. To the extent technology can help family caregivers make the lives of loved ones safer, healthier, and/or happier, we want to report on that technology.

It is for that reporting we conducted our technology survey and will learn from what you told us to improve our reporting for YOU, the family caregivers.

Could You Be Family Caregiver But Not Realize It?

Are you a family caregiver to a senior friend, neighbor, or loved one?

Many of you who are caregivers would answer that question “no,” not realizing you truly are.

It’s not a label of which one should be afraid or embarrassed to be given, but a reason to be proud.

You are one of the millions of Americans providing care — whether hands-on, ‘just’ helping, or while living a distance away — to loved ones, a group that contributes billions in services to the US economy with payment beyond knowing we are helping someone we love have a better life – – and a “thank you” now and then.

Most important, though, you are THE one for the loved one to whom you are providing care.

Importance of Knowing You’re a Caregiver

Why, you may ask, does it matter if you think of yourself as a family caregiver if you are filling that role for someone?

It really comes down to realizing the impact providing care can have on YOU.

Family caregivers often set aside their own needs while focused on the needs of those for whom they care. Those who don’t see themselves as family caregivers fail to recognize the need to care for their own needs as well as those of others.

While helping your loved one get to their doctor appointments, for example, you might ignore making one you need for yourself because there is not time to do it all.

While helping them get the good meals and rest they need to stay healthy, you might be overlooking those same needs of your own, endangering your own health and ability to provide them the level of care you want to provide.

We Care About the Caregivers, Too

We realize it is important to remind family caregivers to make time to care for themselves, which many simply do not do enough of the time. For some, it may mean reaching out to others for support, which is difficult for many of us to do.

First, though, family caregivers have to identify themselves as such.

Our effort to find creative ways to help more family caregivers realize they are filling that role and get the support they need led us to record the “You Might Be a Family Caregiver” feature film short YouTube video below, a respectful adaptation of Jeff Foxworthy’s signature routine.

The video is, we hope, a cute way to let you know there are many things you can do for senior loved ones that would make you a family caregiver. We know we’ve just scratched the surface so hope you’ll take a look at the video and let us know what additional items we might have listed.

We hope you’ll share the video with those you know who are family caregivers and may not realize it so they understand their needs are important too.

We hope you enjoy the video and find it insightful. We’re looking forward to your feedback!