Aging at Home: Fathom Study Explores the Authentic Needs of Older Adults

The largest-ever cohort of Americans over 70 are changing our culture’s notion of what “senior-living” looks like. Nearly all of the aging baby boom generation plans to age in the homes they love, and they have much higher expectations for their quality of life than the generations before them.

Co-creating solutions to the challenges of aging at homeHaving worked with dozens of clients designing products and services for this enormous audience of more than 70 million consumers, we are still surprised how many businesses assume that basic needs—such as health and safety—are all that seniors care about. A Google search for “aging in place” still returns nothing for these aging Americans other than ads for shower grab bars and “nanny cams for mom.”

Co-creating solutions to the challenges of aging at homeThis misplaced focus—seeing seniors first and foremost as vulnerable and disabled—prompted Fathom Consulting to explore how to better help our clients design for the real opportunities of the thriving aging at home market. After a year of focused research (using qualitative, quantitative, secondary, and co-creation methods), it has become clear to us that seniors have needs far beyond just surviving their daily shower.

Illustration of hierarchical needsToday we’re excited to share a framework for supporting the holistic needs of those who are aging at home. Similar to other hierarchical models in the field, our framework emphasizes that health and safety are only a part of the quality of life picture. Today’s seniors are thinking beyond survival and striving for continued purpose. In addition, our framework illustrates the essential emotional needs for connection and self-determination. Without accounting for how a product connects and empowers the older adult using it, nothing it is trying to achieve towards health, safety, or purpose will work.

Using the framework as a starting point, we can leverage traditional ethnography, design thinking, and co-creation methods to envision innovative products and services to satisfy the full range of needs of older adults. And those who take this human-centered approach can expect greater adoption and usage of their innovations for many years to come.

For more information on the needs framework, including many examples of how it can be used to spur innovation and design, read the full study here.