What They Want vs What You Think They Need

Written by: Richard Caro. Posted: April 27, 2018. 


I've said it before. Most of the products for older adults that we see are frankly not very good.

There are lots of reasons for this, and I wrote an entire article about them here. But there are two things in particular that are especially frustrating, because by now entrepreneurs really should have learned to watch out for them.

I think of them as the "eat your broccoli" error, and the "I know how to market to 40 year olds" issue.

I mainly wrote this article to give me an excuse to embed a fantastic video that you will see below (embedded with permission). It does a better job than I can of illustrating these two potential pitfalls. But I wrote a bit more explanation about these two pitfalls below the video.

Please do watch the video below. I bet you will laugh.


View the "Uninvited Guests" Video


Eat your broccoli error

The entrepreneur decides, often encouraged by clinicians or aging services workers, that older adults really "need" something. They set out to make a product to address that need.

But guess what? They forget to talk to older adults themselves, and forget to try and find out if they actually "want" the thing they are supposed to "need".

It's like telling your kid to eat their broccoli. It may well be very good for them. But do they want it? 

And what happens if the older adults don't want it? They don't use it.


I know how to market to 40 year olds

This one is more nuanced. Here is how the conversation goes.

Entrepreneur: "We think older adults should really like the product we are developing (although we talked so far mainly to my grandmother). The trouble is that we just don't know how to reach those older adults. The channels seem not to exist, or if they do exist we don't know how to access them.

So we have decided it makes more sense to market this product to the family of the older adult. We know how to reach them. 

Our messaging is going to be that the product we are working on will give the "alpha daughter (or son)" peace of mind that their loved one is doing well and is well looked after. And they will persuade their parent / loved one to use the product."

Now, sometimes this may indeed be the right approach. But at the end of the day, if it is the older adult's house, and if they don't also like the product, a pivot is on the horizon.


About this video

Uninvited Guests is a short film that explores the frictions between an elderly man and his smart home. 

Thomas, aged 70, lives on his own after his wife died last year. His children send him smart devices to track and monitor his diet, health and sleep from a distance. But Thomas has always been fiercely independent, happy to live in an organised mess. He struggles with the order and rules imposed on him by the objects that are meant to make his life easier. In a world where "smart objects" will increasingly be used to provide care at a distance, how will we live with these uninvited guests?

This film was created by Superflux Lab for the ThingTank project. For further information visit: Superflux: Uninvited Guests.

This video is republished here with permission from Superflux.


And the ASA likes it too

After I wrote this article, I was attending the American Society on Aging conference in San Francisco. Lo and behold, in the first of the main "general sessions", they showed .... this video.

I guess these ideas are gaining traction, which is great to see.







Reader Comments: "What They Want vs What You Think They Need"


from Arian Razzaghi (unverified) at December 14, 2018

Hi! Loved reading your blogs. What do you suggest someone looking into building for a market that is over 55 (i understand there are different use cases) find people to do more customer interview work?

Btw, this video is on POINT. Thanks for sharing.


from TELadmin (unverified) at December 15, 2018

Hi Arian: People do seem to have trouble with this, and our Longevity Explorers can sometimes help. But if you want to do it on your own, we think it is not really so different than any other demographic. Find where they hang out and go talk to them. Dr Caro is usually happy to discuss in more detail if you are having specific difficulties.


from Kathryn Senko  (unverified) at October 13, 2019

Exceedingly interesting reading.

Inspecting a number of Aged Care facilities in Victoria Australia I questioned the suite design for accessibility, the colour scheme, the age of the interior designer. 

The response was the interior designer was early 30s, the target market was for the eldest daughter of the prospective resident.  

Totally wrong, in my opinion.


from Malcolm Spitalnick (unverified) at January 21, 2022

Here's what I see. I'm 82 years old. In waaay better shape than the man in the film.
His children love him, but must, or want, to help him from a distance.
This is "eat your broccoli" with no feedback (Is that a pun?) from Dad.
He's no dummy because he figures out numerous methods to fool the devices his kids dumped on him, and he's fooling the distant kids.
How he survives — alone—is not explained. He surely can't walk easily. Got to believe groceries are delivered.
And by his delicious (I can smell and taste it all now. But without coffee! A sin.), horribly unhealthful English breakfast he is taking some tiny bit of personal control.


from faengelm (member) at January 22, 2022

I had a very strong reaction to the video as this is the area where I’m trying to provide solutions.

I found watching the video VERY saddening as I see the loved one, very creatively, subverting the solutions that his family “thinks” are for his benefit.

While I think family members being able to feel comfortable that a loved one is performing their normal daily activities is very important, the solutions they used are more for their benefit rather than his.

When I look over the solutions I have been working on, I hope they are more focused on making the loved one’s life more enjoyable and safe.

I realize that this video was created a few years ago and that “voice assistants” such as Alexa are now viewed by loved ones as “their friend”, even when providing reminders “to get up and stretch” or “wash your hands”. The smartphone interaction in the video reminds me of “big brother”.

I think the new emphasis on video calling with family members, sharing photos online, and family updates can help with loneliness.

The TV just being used as background noise reminds me of my visits many years ago to my mom in a nursing home where every room had soap operas or game shows on with nobody watching. I have been proposing ways to make the TV be more interactive for loved ones as shown in the article  Making TV Useful For My 94-yr-old Aunt.

Discuss, Comment, Ask Questions


Key words: 
aging in place gadgets

Last Updated: May 29, 2020.

Featured Research


Medical Alert Systems: Help

Medical Alert Systems GuideWe kept getting asked "which medical alert system is best?"; and "how do I choose the right medical alert system for me?". This independent, objective, hands-on research tries to answer those questions. If you are looking for a medical alert system, either for yourself or for an older adult such as a parent, this piece of research is for you.

Choose the Right Medical Alert System for YOU


Useful Apps Club

Useful Apps ClubUnlock the potential of your smartphone or tablet to improve your life. The Useful Apps Club is for older adults and Boomers who have a smartphone or tablet (or are thinking of getting one) and need help to turn it into a useful tool. We are focused on finding Apps that can change your life, and teaching you how to use them. 

View: The Useful Apps Club


Reduce Fall Risk

Avoid FallsRead the "best of the web" on: Avoiding Falling. Our team of clinicians and citizen analysts has scoured the web for the best available answers to a set of questions designed to help you make falling less likely, and make the consequences if you do fall less bad.

View: Avoid the Perils of Falling


Avoid Social Isolation & Loneliness

isolation and lonelinessOur community is exploring ways to avoid becoming isolated and lonely as we grow older. See what we are discovering — including one group of older adult's "recipe" for overcoming loneliness.

View: Isolation & Loneliness Hub


Medication Management Tools

medication management toolsPoor medication management is one of the key reasons people are forced to stop living independently. There are a wide range of tools that can help you manage your medications — and avoid, or at least postpone, that fate. We have researched which products work best for different types of people, ranging from simple inexpensive pill boxes and reminders to complex "automated" pill dispensers.

View: Medication Management Hub