The Risk of Making Assumptions

What does 'older' really mean?

Advertising targeting often uses demographic groups as a way to reach the brand’s target audience. This can be logical for the business in question - for example targeting parents before Christmas, or older adults for equity release programmes helps ensure that the most likely purchaser sees the advert. However, clearly not all older adults will be suitable for or interested in equity release, and not all families and parents celebrate Christmas. In the area of advertising, this may make little difference, as enough of the target audience can be reached to make the demographic assumption useful. However, the same cannot be said to be true when developing products for a broad demographic audience, such as older adults. Firstly, what constitutes an ‘older adult’ can vary wildly – does it include the recently retired yet still very active? What about those still working into later life? Is 55 an ‘older adult’ as is often the case for retirement housing? And even with a specified age or life-stage range, the wide variability of the ‘older adult’ demographic means that a one size fits all approach to development is unlikely to meet the needs of much of the population. It is vital, therefore, that when developing in this area, that we reflect the myriad needs and wants of the older adult population, either by being more selective in our targeting, or by making our products adaptable and customisable so as to be suitable to a much broader subset. For the purposes of this article, we will define older adults as those over 70, whether or not they remain in work.

Recognising variability

During our time developing Link-ages, we noticed that there are frequently significant assumptions made about older adults, particularly in relation to technology. It is often assumed for example, that older adults just don’t ‘get’ it, and don’t see the point. However, there is much evidence to show that this is simply not the case. As with all demographics, there is a wide spectrum of digital engagement amongst older adults, and whilst it may be the case that the older adult demographic is statistically more likely to be digitally excluded, this is by no means ubiquitous, with many older adults engaging regularly with technology, and using it in their day to day lives. As a result, when designing products to meet the needs of this age group, our definition must be more refined. Furthermore, engaging with our intended audience from the start enables us to test our assumptions, and hone them to reflect the real world lives of our market. Broad brush assumptions that older people don’t like, want, or understand technology is unhelpful, and neglects the fact that even for those older adults with profound needs (e.g. in the case of cognitive decline), assistance technology that helps keep them safe, and improves isolation and activity is both available and beneficial. Making these assumptions, therefore, can hinder the implementation of assistive technology, clearly a negative outcome when more and more older adults live independently, with or without care.

The Link-ages difference

The risks of these assumptions mean that, at Link-ages, we work to ensure that our products and adaptable and flexible, allowing them to work for a larger number of end users. We aim to ensure that technology is accessible to those older adults that want it, regardless of their economic situation. As a result, we work closely with housing associations and local authorities to ensure that our work reflects the needs of the specific communities in which we work. We have had great success to date in partnering with these stakeholders to drive forward an ambitious agenda of digital transformation in the social housing sector, with a particular focus on digitally excluded older adults living in social housing or in receipt of care. To talk to us about digital transformation in your setting, or to learn more about our products and services, please visit our website (www.link-ages.com) or contact us at info@link-ages.com  

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