Aging in Place Technology Watch March 2012 Newsletter

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.

And from other blog posts in March:

Five consumer technologies that should be in every senior housing organization.  Andrew Carle, founder of George Mason University’s senior housing administrator program, was interviewed by Senior Housing News on the labor-saving benefits of technology use. That he felt compelled to suggest that technology was both an opportunity and a threat was interesting. But is the low penetration of a variety of technologies more about inertia on the part of management and lack of insistence by families who are fearful of making waves? Residents and families would be able to participate in a richer living experience if senior housing organizations overcame their inertia.

The gift of aging rich - and unaware of services. The gifts of aging are bitter – now there’s a generalization. Rant on. The title and sub-heading in the Times caught my eye. Age and Its Awful Discontents and sub-heading "Is there anything good about getting old? No. Its gifts are bitter.”  The article was Louis Begley’s gloomy reminiscence about his mother and his abhorrence of the 'ravages and suffering inflicted on the body by age and illness.' You wonder, why 'awful,' why 'discontent,' and 'bitter'?  Well, it turns out that his mother was very lonely in her last decade (she died at age 94). "She couldn’t hear well, she had arthritis, too proud for a wheelchair, couldn’t get the hang of a walker, stopped even going to museums, concerts, or sitting on a park bench." Today the 78-year-old Begley feels the "full measure and anguish of his mother’s solitude and that of other old people who end their lives without a companion." It’s too bad Jane Gross and her New Old Age blog wasn’t around (that launched in 2008). Mr. Begley might have read about how other adult children coped (and helped) aging parents. Or he might have hired a geriatric care manager, around since the 1980's. It’s really too bad that despite plenty of money, neither he nor his mother had the inclination to look for ways to maintain the quality of her life.

Protect seniors from anonymous companies, products, and services. On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.  Although the cartoonist did not intend it, that 1993 New Yorker cartoon predicted the future and so it came to pass – and then some. So much of what’s on the web masks an entirely different reality. And so little when you search online has anything to do with what you want to find. Most people do not scroll down to the second page of search results if irrelevance rules: the Internet is filled with an ocean of junk web pages and misleading ads, masquerading as legitimate commerce. Talk to our friendly representative (photo of woman wearing headset). Call NOW! As seen on TV! As mentioned in TIME Magazine! Misleading information or scare tactic pictures on websites targeting seniors -- to me, these rank with phony telephone credit card and financial services scams.

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*** And if you or your organization would like more guidance in any of these areas, learn more about Aging in Place Technology Watch offers of retainer-based and other services. ***

Hope to see you soon at one place or the other (noted on the home page as well). Increasingly my travels will include Washington, DC where we have established a 'base' of operations. Look forward to seeing you there!

All the best!

Laurie