In various other Newsletters I have talked about the problems of senses declining with age. By 65, only a third of the light entering the eye reaches our retina. We have more trouble seeing in low light. We can lose the higher frequencies of sounds as we age. Birdsong disappears and speech can become mumbled. The thresholds of most senses are higher as we age. We need more scent in the air to be able to detect it. We need more salt in our food , a lot more, to get the impact we desire.
I have been exploring two things this week. The first is how prevalent these declines are. How much do they vary by age? How often do we get multiple declines? The second are the implications for a firm. How do they compensate for those declines in the way that they create their propositions.
How common is the loss of different senses?
The first thing to point out is that for many people they will have no decline in any senses until very old age. Loss of hearing and sight was assessed in a representative sample of the US population. Up to the age of 50 , 95% of the population have no loss of hearing or vision. After that percentages do decline. Between 70 and 79, 44% of people still will not suffer from either hearing or sight loss. Even in the over 80’s group, 20% suffer from no medically measurable loss in either sense.
Losing one sense is not related to losing other senses except through age. As we age we are more susceptible to all sensory loss. The loss of our sense of smell, for example, is not related to our loss of sight. Each sense has its own causes and mechanisms of decline. Loss of high frequency hearing comes from damage to the receptor hairs in our ears. There is an increased prevalence amongst men. They are more likely to work in noisy environments. This is clear from the chart. Loss of blue light sensitivity comes from the yellowing of the lenses of the eyes. They continue to grow throughout our lives, thicken and yellow. Age is the only common factor.
There is a study looking at the incidences of multiple sensory loss. Most were less than those expected from the odds of losing individual senses. Multiplying the odds of losing sight and hearing loss produced an incidence prediction higher than the actual. The incidences, even amongst the over 80’s are low. Problems do not occur until the Fourth Age above 85. The most common combination, in one study, was loss of hearing and balance. This was only 18%. The chart shows that loss of hearing and vision up to the age of 80 was only around 10% . At 95 it has only risen to thirty percent.
Does it matter to us?
The problem for a Service Firm Trying to Help
Suppose a firm wanted to attract the over 65’s . It would seem logical to create service experiences more suitable for the senses of those customers. Better lighting to help those with declining vision. Less background noise to help those customers with a hearing issue or a hearing aid. There is a problem. Customers do not arrive at the “front door” with a label describing their sensory loss. There is a huge variability across older people. In fact there is more variability across 70 year olds than there is between 70 year olds and 40 year olds.
Any change has to be acceptable to everyone. It has to be acceptable across all age groups. The incidence of sensory decline may be lower for younger people but it still exists. 95% of people under 50 do not have a hearing or sight problem. Don’t forget the 5% who do. It must be acceptable across all age groups above 65 and to the huge variability within those groups.
Customers can and will self- select. A firm can set a compromise background noise level trying to please everybody. If it is too loud for some groups they will leave. If the ambiance fails to “gel” because there is not enough music then a younger group may leave. Areas within settings can be created with lower noise levels. Customers can be “allocated” to them by staff or given a choice. People do ask for quiet tables. Quiet Zones on UK trains are a classic example. Firms are going to need to experiment and designers to be creative.
Technology can help. Better and brighter screens on credit card machines are helping everybody. LED bulbs can project light at high intensity from a battery powered table lamp onto food and menu. No one can object to seeing their food? Sound absorbance is becoming more ambiance friendly. Pictures can be printed on to sound absorbent panels. These reduce reverberation in a non-intrusive way.
Self- service customization can help. Condiments and sauces on the table can help older customers to enhance their flavour sensations. Those same LED lamps could be made adjustable. People do bring their own pillows to hotels.
The issues are real but the solutions only need creativity.