Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
An inquiry about an iPad opens the door – to a maze of twisty passages, all alike. We like to bring our iPad when we visit my 90-year-old mother-in-law. We walk her out of her memory care unit to a quiet living room and my husband shows his mother beautiful images of kittens and cats. As we passed the 40-something concierge at the front desk, she asked us about whether she should get an iPad. This woman does not own a smart phone and has no Internet service in her house -- and apparently no friends to guide her in this process. If you were asked this question and had just a bit more information about her situation, what would you say?
It was a simple question -- with an increasingly ridiculous answer. "Well sure, you could buy one of these iPad 2 tablets like this one -- you can buy one online for $399 or even a bit less if it is refurbished." And then I contemplate what might be said: Well, if you want to get on the Internet and see these cat images or check the weather report, you could use it here at this assisted living facility, seated in exactly the right spot to use their poorly placed wireless access points. Or you could go to Starbucks or Panera and use their wireless access, but not at lunch time when it gets busy. Or you could get a plan from Verizon for your house… Okay, now we are north of $60/month, more if she get serious about actually using it at home. Did I mention that this was a concierge at the front desk of an ALF? Did I note that in Florida, the average pay for this job runs between $29K and $39K, closer to $29K in this particular location? If she does get an iPad, I sincerely hope she likes coffee.
The beauty of the cat image compels her – so let’s say she buys an iPad. I mentioned that the Verizon store nearby holds in-store workshops for getting started with various devices. And Apple stores (there is one 40 miles away) also hold classes for getting acquainted with an iPad. Or maybe she inherits a bit of money, signs up for the phone-Internet plan from Verizon, buys a wireless router at Best Buy so that she can carry her iPad around her home, and after a few visits to Best Buy (16 miles away), decides to call the Geek Squad to come to her house and for $129.99 set up the network for her. She doesn't want her router to be one of the 25% that are returned to the store simply because they are too complicated to set up. This Generation X woman is quick and is eager to learn. Will she quickly grasp how to sign in to her new home network, lock her device when she takes it out of her home, connect it to various wireless access points, double or single tap with some or all of her fingers, depending on the task, save her bookmarks, and ultimately become a loyal and reasonably happy iPad user?
The Philips-Georgetown study captures the state of technology concerns as they are today. So let’s say the concierge was between 37 and 47, otherwise known as Generation X. Now take a look at this Philips study of technology attitudes of baby boomers and Generation X responders. Forty percent of baby boomers and Gen X (combined) think that technology is too difficult for their parents to learn to use. They are ostensibly referring to seniors aged 65+. They know that 80% of that age segment has no smart phone or tablet. From the study: "Respondents point to the fact that the time involved in learning to use a device and fixing potential problems discourages use." No kidding.
Respondents may have been talking about themselves. They are remembering their own time to learn to connect, configure, and use a new over-hyped and perhaps isolating device. They are remembering their time lost with tech support reps. They are thinking about the time it took to configure the whatever-it-is device with new settings and to obtain new network access. They are remembering the time they spent shutting down default share-all privacy settings, finding and saving links to important websites, finding and downloading apps that can, uh, simplify the experience. Whew. As for whether they could stay at home in their later years, assisted by technology, 67% of the responders would pay to make it happen. But they note that today's tech needs work: "95% of Boomers and GenXers think today's technology could be better developed to help people age in their homes and communities." As I scan around me at a tiewrap consolidation of clusters of cables, noting all of the charging stations, computers, monitors and connection points, contemplating the graveyard of devices in drawers, I couldn't agree more.