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AARP CEO Urges Tech Industry to Woo the 50+ Market

AARP report finds older Americans spend billions on innovative tech products

En español | AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins urged tech designers, home builders and other innovative leaders to keep boomers in mind as they develop and create new products and communities — because adults over the age of 50 are a rapidly growing market for the kind of technology being showcased this week at CES, the largest tech trade show in the world.

Jenkins sat down Wednesday with Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association that puts on the annual event. Her talk with Shapiro ran the gamut from how new technologies can bolster telemedicine, connect people 50-plus to their friends and family, reduce social isolation and allow older Americans to “age in place,” as more than 85 percent of older adults say they want to do.

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A newly released AARP report reveals that the 115 million Americans over 50 are an enormous market for technology — from smartphones, TVs and cars to home assistants and virtual-reality devices. By the end of the next decade, the reports says, the 50-plus population is projected to spend $84 billion on tech products. And that’s just spending for themselves — that doesn’t include the technology they will buy for grandkids and others.

Jenkins told Shapiro that AARP’s innovation strategy includes investments in start-up companies in the areas of health care, virtual reality, sound and voice technology, and medication management. Jenkins said AARP leaders have told the staff that “their main job is to be an everyday innovator in aging.”

The two spoke while seated on modern white chairs set on a small stage in a noisy convention hallway with thousands of people passing by. More than 180,000 people are expected this week at CES (formerly called the Consumer Electronics Show).

Urging tech firms to test their products with older adults before they are launched in the marketplace, Jenkins said: “What AARP brings to the table is that we know our customers. We know the 50-plus market.”

She said a 20-something who picks up the latest iPhone would immediately know how to use it, but people in their 50s and 60s might have to flip through a manual “to understand what this button stands for.” 

At the same time, she said, “many of the solutions that the 50-plus want” also would work for someone much younger. 

Jenkins and Shapiro have similar visions. Jenkins has been leading AARP with the goal of disrupting aging by empowering people to choose how they live and age. She told the audience that disrupting aging also means changing the conversation about what it means to grow old. At the same time, the disruption of the marketplace is a hallmark goal of the tech industry that Shapiro leads.