Makin' Money

But can it make toast?

Chris Farrell Jan 14, 2011

Smart pill boxes. Sensors that pick up on a health problem. Mobile personal emergency response systems. A big wave of technological innovation is coming to meet the needs of an aging population.

Now that people are living longer and hoping to stay in their homes for as long as possible, the market for home health-monitoring technologies is growing. Revenues for personal emergency response systems – variations of the I’ve-fallen-and-I-can’t-get-up emergency alert bracelets – hit $963 million in 2010, after growing 10% to 15% each of the past three years, according to Zachary Bujnoch, a health technology analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan. And the market for newer event-monitoring technologies, like those using cellular networks to transmit the ECG data, is growing at about 200% per year, he says. With a population that’s increasingly comfortable with technology – whether that’s an aging parent who needs monitoring or her daughter who’s doing the monitoring – adoption of such products is only likely to grow. “We’re just in the first inning of a lot of caregiving tech,” says Andy Cohen, chief executive of, an online caregiver support site.

The costs of the products highlighted in the article are too high for the average elderly customer. But prices will plummet as these products move from an expensive niche into the mass market mainstream.

By the way, a good way to follow aging and technology is to bookmark the Disruptive Demographics blog by Joseph Coughlin, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab. Unlike most researchers and commentators on the subject of aging, he doesn’t see a demographic disaster in our future. Quite the opposite. This post on Baby Boomers & Technology: Possibilities, Privacy & Promise is typical:

As an apartment dweller this story certainly caught my eye: Apartment dwellers could be facing double-digit rent increases in the coming years. The supply of new units isn’t keeping up with demand and “with a rise in prime renter-age households gives landlords clout they haven’t see since the mid-1990s, according to industry experts.

Count me among the double digit rate increase skeptics. I think we would need to see very high rates of inflation for that to happen. For one thing, if developers push rents up too high folks will start buying more. After all, the underlying financials of the buy vs. rent equation in many parts of the country now favor ownership. What’ more, the housing market trauma of the Great Recession taught a generation how to rent out their condos, lofts, and single family dwellings. The supply of rental units may be much larger than the statistics on multi-family dwelings suggest.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.