Guest Blog: What’s Age Got To Do With It?

By Neel Desai

As an entrepreneur developing a service for the 50+ plus demographic, I have struggled, as have many others to find a name for this group. After all, marketers and businesses alike have created distinct customer segments with infants (birth-12 months), toddlers
(1-4 years), children (5-10), pre-teens (11-12), teens (13-17), and young adults (18-25).
So naturally, by extension, I thought someone over 50 years of age would be called an ‘older adult’.

But we’ve also heard terms such as seniors, elders, the elderly, mature adults, retirees, Boomers, and Zoomers used to refer to the same group of people, which then begs to ask a number of questions: Where do these other labels fit? Are they interchangeable? Are any of them offensive? Surely someone who is 50 years of age, wouldn’t want to be called ‘old’. I doubt anyone over 90 would want to be called ‘old’ either. Unsure of any of these answers, I found myself back to the beginning, scrambling for a label to describe people over 50 and soon found myself using all of the labels interchangeably to ensure I was covering everyone; needless to say, not a great strategy.

Unpleased with the outcome, I then thought to try a different approach by finding common characteristics of this age group. I first looked at their interests: some enjoyed reading, watching movies, taking classes, while some enjoyed snowboarding, swimming, rock climbing, water skiing, or travelling.

Next, I looked at personal relationships: some had always been single, some divorced, some widowed, some re-married, some were parents, some grandparents, some were in long-term relationships, some had many friends, and some needed more. Then I looked at health: some were in wheelchairs, some used canes, some were bed-ridden with medical problems, but some were healthier than they had ever been, both mentally and physically. Lastly I looked at career: some were starting new businesses, some were working, some were retired, some worked reduced hours, some were looking for work, and some had given-up looking for work after dealing with age discrimination.

After this entire exercise, the only thing I COULD find in common was that they all had naturally graying or white hair. In fact, if you Google the word ‘SENIORS’ a commonly used name for this group and click on the ‘IMAGES’ tab, what you see almost exclusively are pictures of people standing, smiling, and – you guessed it, with white hair.

So then it started to make sense, that with decades’ worth of interests, hobbies, relationships, memories, and multiple-careers it was impossible to think of them as one group. Unlike tots, children, teenagers, young adults, in trying to speak to a group with so much diversity, I was in fact, not speaking to anyone.

For businesses and innovators, it is however, easier for us to compartmentalize and segment to help our understanding and control our outcomes. In fact, there already exists large organizations with ubiquitous influence that have branded themselves as a destination for people over 45 or for people over 50. For myself and many business owners small, medium, and large that regularly pitch to investors looking to secure funding, there is a distinct advantage to having a large target market. If you’re looking to raise money, and there exists an accepted convention of labelling a people as 50+, why would you under-state your market size and make the investment less attractive? There are other challenges, but it brings us back to the question if you’re not able to speak to people as individuals, how much value is your product or service providing?

So instead of creating a valuable product or service ‘for people over 50’, maybe just focus on creating value. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand the characteristics of your customer, it just makes a point of questioning what ‘age’ has to do with it.


Neel Desai is co-founder of a, an online global book-club for people over 50, older adults, seniors, boomers, zoomers, elders, empty nesters, retirees…..and everyone else outside and in between. Email:, Twitter: @bugsomeone, Facebook:

Technology and Aging: Game On! Older Adults and Digital Gaming.

The words ‘digital gaming’ and ‘older adults’ are not often used in the same breath. However, as the world’s population ages, digital gaming has the potential to become a popular way for older adults to play games and engage in social interaction.

An article entitled Can Playing Video Games Help Seniors Age Better? quotes Andrew Sixsmith, professor of gerontology and the scientific director of Age Well, as saying “we shouldn’t assume that older people are technophobes or uninterested in new technologies”. Sixsmith is involved in a new research project that looks at online games for seniors and explores how older adults might benefit from playing digital games.

Along with fostering social engagement, digital gaming may have clinical benefits. One of the finalists in the Gerontological Society of America and Springboard Enterprises Dolphin Tank contest, Project Carbon uses gaming technology to aid individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Last week the Centre for Elder Research was involved in a weeklong competition with the college’s Bachelor of Game Design program. The students were asked to design an Inter-Generational game that may be enjoyed by young and older players at the same time. Considering older adults as potential clients created new possibilities for student designers.

Whether digital gaming is used for social engagement or for clinical benefits, the gaming industry is slowly beginning to focus its attention on the aging population as potential users.

Arts and Aging: Writing About The Emotional Journey of Downsizing

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

Downsizing can be a very emotional experience. The act of sorting through and deciding the fate of personal possessions can elicit a flood of long forgotten memories. A number of authors have written about their own emotional journey while downsizing their parent’s homes. Filled with laughter and sadness the memoirs listed below are two such examples.

They Left Us Everything

“After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year-old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers experience conflicted feelings of grief and relief when their mother, the surviving parent, dies.

Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, which hasn’t been de-cluttered in more than half a century. Twenty-three rooms bulge with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks.

Plum remembers her loving but difficult parents who could not have been more different: the British father, a handsome, disciplined patriarch who nonetheless could not control his opinionated, extroverted Southern-belle wife who loved tennis and gin gimlets.

The task consumes her, becoming more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger memories of her eccentric family growing up in a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario in the 1950s and 60s. But unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.”

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

“In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”-with predictable results-the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies-an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades-the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.”

Do you have a favourite memoir that broaches the challenges of downsizing?

Business of Aging: Marketing to Older Adults

Many businesses continue to focus their marketing efforts on young adults, ignoring the potential of the mature consumer market. However, there has been a proliferation of advertising campaigns the last few of years that cater to the older adult demographic. The examples below illustrate a growing trend towards using older adults in advertising material.

TK MaxxIn 2014, the British fashion store TK Maxx, recruited Olga Taylor (age 62) as the face of their brand. Taylor, who works in catering at a local college, was scouted shopping at TK Maxx as part of their ‘Me. By Me.’ campaign that focused on ‘real people’.

karlie-kloss-kate-spade-spring-2015-campaign05At 93 years of age, Iris Apfel was the star of retailer Kate Spade New York’s spring 2015 ad campaign.

Joni MitchelJoni Mitchell became the face of Saint Laurent Paris at the age of 71.