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ASA’s Aging in America: so much talk about tech – so little tech
A plethora of sessions -- but where are the exhibitors? For the past few days at ASA’s Aging in America, I heard various speakers talk about the importance of technology for older adults -- I babbled on about it a bit myself. It will make this the ‘age to age’, learn to ‘love the device you’re with’, so that you can attend sessions about designing technology for older adults, learn about tech training for seniors, see what's coming and who is doing what. The many sessions that discussed technology were categorized in the program book as ‘Housing, accessibility and technology’ – so I wondered how many consumer-focused tech vendor exhibitors were in the exhibit hall. I reasoned that all of these aging services professionals would want to know about all of the useful software and devices that they could refer to clients to improve their quality of life. Not counting the back office systems (the ERPs of aging services), I looked through the book and show floor, searching for tech to connect older adults with professionals, families and caregivers. And there it wasn’t.
So if this is the ‘age to age,’ tech for seniors won’t be part of it. I counted 15 in the show book and on the floor. Three PERS products, one home care matching tool, three community sites, two ease of use computer products, two products for wander management, two remote health, two hearing assistance offerings. There were plenty of speakers (consultants and some vendors) talking about their tech – in panels and in the audiences, many recruited by session moderators who pitched the topic months ago. But if the thousands of aging services attendees are going to learn what’s what for their clients and their constituencies by visiting booths and seeing demos, it wasn't going to be at this event. If they want to have a good list and directory of vetted products and case study examples of how tech is used to help older adults, it won’t be here.
You may wonder – isn’t this the premier event for aging services? There really aren’t that many other choices in the US with ASA’s attendee scale – more than 3000 aging services professionals. The larger AARP national event is for consumers. The AARP website and publications have boosted tech content, which is a good thing – the target boomer member is increasingly adopting it. Leading Age still is largely comprised of brick-and-mortar non-profit housing members. The tech-focused sub-group, Center for Aging Services Technology (CAST), provides sponsored research about technology adoption, and LeadingAge sponsored the design and build-out of the Idea House, which has showcased a few technology vendors that were not at ASA. And ALFA – the conference for the for-profit senior housing industry – still does not offer much tech for the end user resident. But Aging in America is the largest event for professionals who provide home and community services for an older population. And this is the largest and most centralized mechanism for those professionals to learn. Why aren't the vendors on the floor? Is it because they don't see a path from the attendee to an ultimate sale?
Make Aging in America an exhibit showcase of technology for older adults. Next year should be different – please. Plan a pavilion approach, provide (by sub-contracting) enough tech training to enable attendees to leave with more hands-on exposure and guidance about tech tools than they had on arrival. Seek best practice sessions that guide aging services professionals in the process for referral and recommendation of tech tools. Partner with NCOA and AARP to create a sanctioned and fully-tested product list -- offer the gold star top 10 tech tools attendees need to know. Seek and sell exhibitor space for a broad selection of vendors, and especially seek out vendors that should be there. So many folks offer an anecdote about showing their iPad to their mother or father, amazing them and bringing them into the outside world. But surveys (see Linkage 2011 Technology Survey Aged 65 to 100) of the oldest and poorest show that tech, however, is NOT pervasive. So those who can refer and also benefit from partnerships to boost its use should get going, get trained, and most of all get ASA on a tech track – in both sessions AND exhibitors. Looking forward to next year.