The Growing Elderly Gamer Population
The global population as a whole is living longer. The life expectancy for someone born in 1946 (the earliest year to be considered a Baby Boomer) was 72.7 - today that number is ~83 (Social Security Online). More than 1 in 6 Americans are age 65 or older, and this demographic (“elderly population” or “elderly gamers” for those that play games) is expected to surpass 80 million people in 2040 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021 Population Survey).
Elderly care as it is today is already a $1.7 trillion dollar market (Global Newswire). This is projected to grow even further to $2.4 trillion by 2028 driven primarily by the increase in the elderly population and the rising proportion of people being diagnosed with chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
While video games have increased in popularity with the elderly population, we believe that there is room for further innovation and integration of gaming technologies in areas such as preventative care, combating loneliness, maintaining brain elasticity, and driving healthier habits.
Understanding Gamers Aged 65+
Increasing tech literacy: The elderly are getting increasingly more tech savvy. 30 years ago almost to the day (4/30/1993), CERN put the web into the public domain. In other words, the World Wide Web became publicly accessible. Adults who were in their mid 30s at the time are now aging into the 65+ demographic;today’s elderly population is becoming more familiar with advanced technologies and how to integrate them into their daily lives than prior generations.
Already playing games, highly engaged and paying: The elderly are already playing video games, and this number is growing at a rapid rate. Even prior to the pandemic, the number of Americans aged 50+ grew 26% from 40.2 million in 2016 to 50.6 million in 2019 (AARP). From 2019-2022, the number of gamers aged between 55 and 64 specifically had increased by 32% (Global Web Index).
Samsung UK surveyed 1,000 people aged 65+ who were interested in gaming. They found that 85% of these people who said they were interested in video games play at least once a week (and 36% play every day). This is above the average of 65% across gamers of all age demographics(Deloitte).
Even gamers playing free-to-play (F2P) mobile games are still paying. In a survey done by Fandom Spot, they found that 79% of elderly gamers spent at least $50 in the past year on in-game purchases in F2P games. While the number of hours Boomers play per week and the money spent on gamers per year is lower than other age demographics, Gen X is beginning to age into the 65+ age category which points to an increasing trend across both time and dollars spent. The elderly gaming population is becoming increasingly valuable.
The Benefits of Gaming are Already Proven
Today, the most immediate benefits from gaming are through content (i.e., games).
Improving Cognition and Motor Skills: 76% of elderly gamers agree that their top motivation for gaming is brain stimulation, and 49% say that video games directly helped with their cognitive ability (Fandom Spot). Further, these gamers shared that people close to them had noticed a change in their mental state and commented that the player has been “quicker”, “sharper”, or less forgetful than usual.
The benefits are not only limited to mental exercise and skills. A study was done by King’s College London that tested the effects on a brain training game done by 7,000 people aged 50+ where players were encouraged to play the game for 10 minutes at a time, as often as they wanted. People who played the games five times a week for six months got better at navigating public transport, shopping, cooking and money management.
Another study done by Tohoku University showed that games could also be used to help keep elderly drivers safe. As the proportion of elderly people relative to the general population increases, there will be a higher proportion of elderly people on the road. From 2000-2020 alone, there was a 68% increase in the number of licensed drivers 65+ (vs a 60% increase in the 65+ age demographic) (CDC, U.S. Census Bureau). The researchers had participants play a game 20 mins per day, 5 times a week that tested their reaction times, attention spans, and memories while playing a driving simulator. Those who played the game performed better behind the wheel in real life six weeks later.
Connectivity and Mental Health: 71% of elderly gamers say that games help them bond with friends and family, and 55% say that gaming helps with their mental health (Fandom Spot). Some key problems that this demographic faces include loneliness and boredom, and playing either with or without others can help combat these negative emotions. 44% of elderly gamers that were surveyed said that gaming eased their boredom, and 63% said they felt less lonely as a result of playing.
Improving Gaming’s Impact on the Elderly
Many innovations in gaming and other areas have the potential to be leveraged by the healthcare industry to improve quality of life for the elderly. More and more care services for the elderly are shifting away from in-facility services - McKinsey estimates that $265b of elderly care spend could shift to the home between 2022 and 2025. Key considerations as gaming expands to applications outside of traditional content are the limitations of hardware, especially in the realm of healthcare (e.g., in-home health, assistive devices, mobility, invasive hardware, non-invasive wearables) and the potential need for specialized solutions if one-size-fits all technology has limited applications.
A few areas where we see more gaming applications:
- Chatbots or digital companions for diagnosis and support (e.g., assistance with finding solutions to specific health issues, reminders to take medications)
- Using games to monitor emerging risk (e.g., using games to track ongoing mental performance to catch emerging mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s)
- Translating assistive technologies that have been used by disabled gamers for everyday interactions
- Using games or digital companions to drive healthier habits (this can be combined with computer vision hardware devices for accountability / healthcare support / safety, e.g., walking, reminders to eat or take medication, etc)
Takeaway: Gaming has been proven to have benefits for the elderly. As the global population continues to age, the positive impacts of gaming technologies can be applied and even tailored to make everyday tasks easier, improve mental and physical health, flag emerging risk, and maintain healthier habits for this demographic. We are excited to see gaming leveraged more in the future to better serve and improve the lives of the elderly population.