Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
The fork buzz at CES versus the real world of aging and older adults. I’m staring at and trying to make sense of two documents -- one is the CES list of tech offerings that target older adults and Digital health. The second is a conference agenda of an event sponsored by the Erickson School of the University of Maryland called Look Who’s Aging – comprised of business execs and industry leaders for the market of nursing homes, assisted living and related services. While both of these events were really about the world of consumers and what they want, what I saw is more than a ‘digital divide’ – gargantuan gulf might be more appropriate. Exhibit A: the buzzing fork was there to remind you that you are eating too fast and too much. Right. But other than the fork, in the end, each of these events would benefit from a few bridges across that gulf.
We are the people our parents warned us about – live long, die short. Dean Judah Ronch ('we are the people') noted that aging boomers, perhaps characterized as activists with the most money, will not want to partake of today's 'ageist stereoptypes' and 'ghettoized approaches' to senior housing when they reach their mid-80’s and beyond. The nursing home of today – already dwindling in number, will be replaced. Maybe when 'the future isn’t what it used to be,' senior housing approaches will be more like the Bill Thomas vision for the Green House Project. But we boomers are determined to age in place and eager to age successfully. The latter was described by Robyn Stone of Leading Age as 'live long, die short', but in reality we may face an 'unprecedented epidemic of loneliness' and the industry will face a changing demand for new types of housing and long-term care offerings.
Try facing the ‘epidemic of loneliness’ through the consumer technology lens. So CES had many tech vendors that were presented out of the context of these senior housing trends. These devices could, however, help tackle that epidemic of loneliness and its related risk to safety for seniors who are both frail and alone. These ranged from phones: Great Call’s smart phone, Doro’s senior cell phones and VTech’s senior phone. Offerings included emergency response technology like MobileHelp, Verizon’s SureResponse and Philips new GoSafe mobile PERS offering. Products like ClearSounds, SonicAlert and TVEars help the hearing impaired (30% of those age 65-74, and 47% of those aged 75+). Other speakers and participants included GrandCare and Independa systems for communication, health and safety.
Bridging the gap – seniors need the tech, tech needs to find the seniors. The only technology offering examined in depth at the Fort Myers event was It’s Never Too Late, a system that tries to mitigate boredom and the isolation from prior lives, activities, and long-distance families. The firm's senior customers, most of them in the category of the ‘old old’ residing in nursing homes or assisted living, use IN2L for rehabilitation therapy, mind exercise and social connection. But wouldn’t all of the CES tech above also be quite helpful? Yet a survey about tech usage in senior housing organizations reflect a discouragingly slow pace of adoption -- perhaps organizations are waiting for families to demand it.
Okay, so let's sum up. The gadgets/systems needed were in Las Vegas; Organizations that could help facilitate adoption were in Fort Myers. The rest of those senior housing organizations (and late adopters) will be well-represented at future conferences like Aging in America, LeadingAge in Dallas and ALFA in Charlotte. After the exhibit halls are finalized for those events, we will be able to see clearly how wide the gulf is between consumer tech and tech offered to the oldest consumers in senior housing and/or aging services.