A Roadmap for Innovating in the Older Adult Space - Silver Moonshots
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A Roadmap for Innovating in the Older Adult Space

A Roadmap for Innovating in the Older Adult Space

The number of people over 50 in the US (and many others internationally) is at its greatest number in history and those in this age group are living longer than ever before. Despite this “perfect storm”, the focus on this large and burgeoning population has been relatively limited, with around 90% of the total population research “spend” mainly concentrating essentially on children, teens, young adults and “middle aged” adults, with interest waning very quickly after 50 years of age.

For those few researchers that do pay attention to older adults (be they academic or consumer centric), the over-50 population is almost universally treated as a “monolith” (or a single undifferentiated block) rather than diversified and with multiple, nuanced needs. In other words, where we can be highly granular in younger age groups in terms of research (i.e. “how do black, female 15 year olds think and act when it comes to smart phones?” or “how do ‘blue-collar’ males aged 25-29 participate in the housing market?”) in the 50+ market we are much more likely to ask “what are the most common medical ailments in the 55+ population/or in seniors?” While this latter question yields some general and/or averaged information, it aggregates a very large “block” of people and thereby lacks considerable detail and creates unhelpful ‘average’ outcomes can hide considerable ‘color’ or important variation in the population being considered.

Despite the above biases, because of its shear size (almost 120 million people over aged 50 in the US alone!) really understanding the 50+ population is difficult, as a shear scale issue (or the data set itself is enormous). We therefore ideally need a “microcosm” population that is both reasonably large and has sufficient overall diversity (including contrasting it with the under 50’s) and is well-studied or researched on a regular basis. These smaller populations can be found in most countries, which collect diverse data on its population regularly, but the “trick” is to ensure that they are as “normal” as possible. Normal here means that we ideally need to see older adults living in regular communities and then analyze their wants and needs as a result (as opposed to these individuals living in “special communities” for older adults-which tend to cater for a range of needs for the less than 10% who can afford such communities, but not the whole population). Normal here also means that older adults are part of a diverse community, including rich to poor, young to old, living alone or as part of a family etc.

The Coachella Valley (CV), (where the research and innovation organization, Silver Moonshots is based) is one excellent example of that so-called “normal” community, with around 160,000 people over of 50 years of age (or greater) living in an all-year-round resident population of 403,000. What is particularly attractive here is that this almost 40% proportion is considerably greater than the US average. In addition, it is a regularly studied community with three thousand 50+ people being interviewed by the non-profit organization “HARC” in depth, every 3 years. The next study will be undertaken in 2019 and, once again, results for the whole community will be extrapolated for the whole CV area.

This Coachella Valley research creates multiple microcosm populations by sub-age group. For example, population by particular age group (such as 65-70 year olds), by type (veterans, Hispanics, native Americans, LGBTQ), by gender, by “preferences” and even by “challenge area”. In this latter category, this allows a detailed breakdown or number count to be run for the CV, which can then be analyzed by sub-set. For example, we might ask, “how many veteran females with MS, are depressed and sleep deprived?” To provide a quick list of the types of data that can be analyzed in a “microcosm” community like the CV, 24 different illustrative issues and challenges for this population are listed below, with CV number counts first and world numbers on the right:

·     Arthritis (11,000-250M)

·     Dementia (2,000-5M)

·     Blindness (12,000-300M)

·     Cancer (all) (25,000-150M)

·     COPD (2,500-65M)

·     Deafness (4,500-360M)

·     Depression (6,000-315M)

·     Disability (22,000-1B)

·     No Transport access/shut-in

·     Medical Falls (21,000-35M)

·     Food insecurity (4,000-400M)

·     Heart disease (15,000-200M)       •

·     Homelessness (400-100M)

·     Medical Marijuana (10,000-1M)

·     Mental illness (18,000-2M)

·     Multiple Sclerosis (4,500-2.5M)

·     Obesity/Diabetes 20,000-130M)

·     Opioid dependency (1,000-15M)

·     Physical/financial abuse (750-3M)

·     Poverty (2,000-700M)

·     Sleep deprivation (8,500-200M)

·     Living with STDs (100-1.2M)

·     Living with HIV (5,100-4M)

·     Unpaid caregiving (40,000-500M)

The benefit of rich local data like this is that it is “manageable”. This means that not only can analysts start to better understandable population “pain points” and the potential for new “gains” that would benefit a particular community of people, but “test” or “pilot” this at a local level. In this case, the piloting process can mean gathering more data about this “microcosm” population at this manageable local level, including involving willing individuals in focus groups or in new product or service innovation “co-creation” activities.

This process of analyzing and testing in a small local realm helps to easily involve the very population to whom these new products or services are aimed, and further work to make the ultimate offering more “fit-for-purpose”. Once this has been done on a local or smaller scale, we then have the opportunity to look at wider communities in the same demographic and/or psychographic category. For example “LGBTQ males who live alone and suffer hearing loss” might be a population of only 30 in the Coachella Valley, but is a population of 150 in Riverside County, 4,000 in California and 35,000 across the US (and many more across the world). It would be therefore very useful to apply the local learning about this population’s needs and expectations and the innovative offerings that come out of the local exchange of ideas to help to these wider groups of people, and much more effectively and rapidly.


Innovating in the older adult/50 years of age + space is not easy given the paucity of solid research data and lack of granularity on a historical basis. However, we can start to change this by using well-described and “normal” or “balanced” microcosm communities, such as the Coachella Valley, to establish a solid base which deepens knowledge at a more detailed level and then use this to extrapolate from. With persistence, we will then quickly build much more granular information about this whole population and be able to offer new products and services which are much more likely to be well-received (and the purveyors of those products and services are more likely to add real value and make reasonable profits from their efforts).

Jon Warner, CEO, Silver Moonshots

Silver Moonshots helps startups, early stage, and mature companies to better understand older adults at a deeper demographic and psychographic level so as to make products and services better for them and the companies providing them. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]