Boomers study shows future demand for health technology

From the Minneapolis St. Paul Business JournalBYLINE: Lauren WilbertBaby boomers in Minnesota consider themselves young until at least age 80 and say they will invest in technology to help them live independently, according to a survey released this week by Ecumen.That will open opportunities for businesses that successfully cater to those needs, particularly in the insurance, technology, senior housing and advertising industries. Some businesses already are creating a new niche to cater to the young at heart’ seniors, while others will need to work on their marketing to connect with this audience.Ecumen, a Shoreview-based senior-housing nonprofit, surveyed 564 Minnesota baby boomers between the ages of 42 and 60 for the organization’s first Age Wave study.he research found that Minnesota boomers overwhelmingly believe technology will play a major role in their aging experience. Half said they’d spend $100 a month on technology to help them live independently, and 5 percent said they’d spend as much as $500 per month.Many boomers already are buying health technology for their aging parents and are savvy about products on the market, said Eric Schubert, Ecumen’s director of communications.’Technology is a huge part of their life,’ Schubert said. ‘Boomers have grown up in this TiVo, iPod age, and every sector of life that boomers have gone through, there’s been huge change.’Ecumen might even seek out partnerships with large retailers to sell digital health technology. Other businesses might look at the trends and develop partnerships of their own, Schubert said. ‘While we’d love to bring everything to market, there’s clearly some [companies] better poised to act on things.’Tweak the messageBoomers’ buying power will continue to grow, as evident in the sheer number of them. Ecumen’s study estimates that by 2020, Minnesota will have more seniors than children.Take into account that boomers plan to work into their 70s and even beyond and it becomes clear that the ‘silver tsunami’ will affect the way employers structure their hours. Many companies are trying to provide flexible work schedules to accommodate this work force. In retirement, boomers will do something they enjoy, and businesses can benefit from boomers’ expertise,Schubert said.Insurance is another area set for changes. Most senior plans are sold as ‘long-term care insurance,’ a name that boomers hate, he said. ‘It’s basically the precept that aging is about living, no matter what stage you’re at. So often aging is about the end of life and declinism, and boomers just aren’t going to go with this.’Boomers would rather buy a hybrid health care package that resembles a life-insurance policy that they could leave for their heirs, he said.Preferences in housing also are creating huge opportunities for developers and places like Ecumen.No one surveyed said they would like to live in a nursing home, and most said they’d prefer to live in a rural or suburban setting over an urban one.Entering the marketCommercial Equity Partners (CEP), based in Woodbury, is just one example of companies racing to enter the boomer market.CEP, which specializes in building business campuses, has partnered with Ecumen to develop a senior-living community in Woodbury adjacent to HealthEast Care System’s Woodwinds Hospital.The project would be 325,000 square feet and include a fitness center, common area, housing for 250 people, restaurants, a general store and transportation to places outside the development.CEP first has to convince Woodbury’s City Council to change the zoning, which now is designated for medical office developments. But already, the project is attracting investors and potential residents, said Bill Knutson, CEP’s vice president of senior housing.’It’s [focused around] emerging needs in health care, and our role is to understand how all these relationships can mesh.’