Consumer electronics is usually all about catering to the young and hip. But this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — the industry's big showcase — there was a spotlight on the market for seniors.
As consumer electronics companies face a shrinking overall market, there's a big market for aging baby boomers. While there were fewer people than last year at the show and the lines were shorter, organizers for the first time set aside an area of the floor for technology that caters to older people — including video games.
While there's nothing unusual about a man in a suit trying to sell a computer game at the show, Dan Mitchell says it isn't a typical game. It's for people over 60 who want to keep their minds alert and avoid dementia. That means no music from the latest Coldplay album.
"We have movie clips and music all from the period of time when these people were younger," Mitchell says.
In one game, players watch a scene from a movie with Jimmy Stewart and then are asked to remember details from it, such as how many people he greeted.
In one way or another, most of what is on display for seniors is related to health or its deterioration, like a talking pillbox that says, "You've taken 48 pills in the last 24 hours."
Also, if the patient — maybe an elderly grandmother — fails to take her pills, it will send a caretaker a notification.
"You will be able to call your grandmother, for instance, that's living in Florida. And you're in New Jersey and you can call her and find out what the problem is," says Jerry Hahn, who is selling this pillbox for MedSignals.
Hahn says MedSignals is also working on alerts that will tell a patient when to take his or her blood pressure, or check their weight or blood glucose. Larger companies such as Microsoft are also trying to spin their products to make them more appealing to seniors.
"So when I push the little key that looks like the Windows logo and the plus button, you'll see that I'm actually just zooming in the screen," says Daniel Hubell, one of Microsoft's technical evangelists. He showed Windows software that has the ability to zoom, making images and words larger and easier to read.
Mary Furlong, who consults with tech companies on the elderly market, points out that there are 78 million boomers in the U.S. and 450 million worldwide.
"Every dissonance of aging is a market opportunity," Furlong says. "So when the boomers turned 40, Nordstrom's starting selling designer glasses and we started seeing, 'Well, maybe I'll take a computer with a little bit bigger screen.' "
But that also means people need to be skeptical. The evidence that playing video games is going to ward off dementia is not yet conclusive. The only thing that's clear is that it's going to make you better at a particular game.