Older innovators often have unique knowledge, foresight.

Within a couple of decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.

An ongoing major thrust in the inventing world focuses on inventions that help senior citizens in their daily lives, covering a broad range of applications. Examples include gadgets and technology that can help seniors remain safe in the comfort of their own homes: in-home and remote monitoring sensors; medical alert devices; locking medication dispensers and reminders, and various mobility products that allow seniors to get around easier even with decreased mobility.

This current and future relevance in the inventing realm cannot be overstated. The over-65 population in the United States is the fastest-growing age demographic, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Specifically, based on its press release No. CB18-41, dated March 13, 2018: By 2030, all baby boomers (1946-1964) will be older than 65, resulting in a shift in the age structure from 13 percent of the population 65 and older in 2010 to 19 percent in 2030. One in every five residents will be of retirement age. Within a couple of decades, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.

Although modern inventing may be associated with young people, they don’t have the years of experience and wisdom to fine-tune a product. When seniors invent a product, they’re able to tap into decades of knowledge and foresight—two crucial qualities necessary to invent something useful that give them an advantage over younger inventors. This is the point made more than 2,000 years ago by the Roman playwright Terence, who said that “No man was ever so completely skilled in the conduct of life, as not to receive new information from age and experience.”

Notable older inventors

History provides many documented examples of successful inventions and new products by seniors. Probably the best known such inventor was Benjamin Franklin. He created bifocal glasses at 78, giving seniors the ability to see up close and far away at the same time. Other noteworthy examples provided by Living Senior in its April 24, 2014, blog:

  • Peter Mark Roget’s “Roget’s Thesaurus,” the gold standard for synonyms, was published when he was 73. He supervised all revisions for the next 17 years until his death.
  • George Weiss was 84 when he invented the board game Dabble, in which players get tiles with letters on them and have to come up with words as fast as they can within a limited time. For this, he was awarded the 2011 Game of the Year.
  • Gys van Beek was 85 when he invented the all-purpose survival tool Trucker’s Friend, a multi-purpose tool specifically designed for any situation that requires hacking, chopping, prying, pulling or pounding. It includes a curved axe, hammer, nail puller, tire chain hook, pry bar, lever and spanner wrench.
  • Charles Greeley Abbot became secretary of the Smithsonian Institution at age 56. At 99, he invented the solar cooker that used the energy of direct sunlight to cook food and heat beverages. At that time, he became the oldest person to receive a patent and may still hold the record as the oldest inventor.

Reports support trend

Research studies show that senior citizens make up a group that is surprisingly tech-savvy; cellphones, smartphones, tablets, e-readers and social media sites are all used by varying portions of the older generation. In this regard, an article appeared in the April 17, 2015, New York Times by Constance Gustke entitled “More Older Adults Are Becoming Inventors.” She noted that there is a “rising tide of American innovation” in the sense that older inventors are teaming up, joining inventor clubs and getting their products into the marketplace.

This year, the July 10 issue of the San Francisco-area community newspaper Independent News reported an innovative collaboration. Several years ago, residents of the Livermore retirement community Watermark at Rosewood Gardens joined students from Livermore High School to start a project called “Seniors Helping Seniors” to work together on inventions designed to make life easier for older adults.

Examples include building a hands-free umbrella for use with walkers; a handle device to assist a person with leg or knee weakness to stand up confidently from a sofa, and inventing knobs for lamps. According to project leaders, students meet with senior residents to discuss their progress and test their inventions with seniors who have backgrounds that include the sciences, engineering and library science, to name a few.

Perhaps many people don’t realize that seniors are active in the inventing landscape and have demonstrated the ability to identify and define their own problems and invent solutions. The new wave of baby boomers exhibits essential attributes and characteristics for inventors: independence, competitiveness, possibly more open-minded social values than older generations, focused on health and wellness, and the valuing of individuality.