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Aging in Place Technology Watch January 2011 Newsletter

Boomers have turned senior, let 2011 and the games begin.  2011 kicked off reading one silly article after another about the 'first wave of baby boomers turning 65, woe is us', and the related gloom-and-doom set of books, including, but in no way limited to Shock of Gray (Fishman) and Never Say Die (Jacoby). But the year really began for me at CES in Las Vegas where I stood mesmerized in front of the technologically transcendent Bellagio fountain and oh yes, saw exhibits and vendors inside the convention halls, heard numerous speakers talk about the growing prevalence of mHealth -- all those iPhone apps, crazy -- and learned about new tech for chronic disease management, numerous smart phones (11), tablets (85), app stores (one for each hardware vendor?) and more. Really too much information to comprehend.

Games (or game platforms) are a phenomenon. One of the most intriguing articles of the month for me (other than the Tiger Mom hoopla) was Jane McGonigal's Be a Gamer, Save the World WSJ excerpt from her new book, Reality is Broken published last week. The idea that using the power of games to make us better and change the world ("blessed are the geeks") was as interesting as the stats I had never seen. From the article, we learn that:  world-wide three billion hours per week are spent gaming, in the US there are 183 million active gamers, spending $15.5 billion last year, average per day of 1-2 hours, but extreme gamers play up to 45 hours per week: players on 'World of Warcraft' alone have spent (to date) 5.93 million years. And 40% of all user time on Facebook is spent playing social games. Which makes the social skills divide described by UCLA's Gary Small in iBrain that much more intriguing -- and not in a good way. I will spend more time this year trying to make sense of this in the context of technology for older adults, but clearly there is a great bi-directional mentoring opportunity out there -- teens teaching old adults how to tweet, older adults providing remedial guidance on how to communicate face-to-face.

But we are sorely missing connections across our devices and apps. In the world of so much technological choice, the lack of continuity across devices is becoming more and more disconcerting. If you experience transitions between phone, computer, smart phone, TV, and game console and user interface, you'll know what I mean. Add Internet-enabled TV, which should be a tremendous value for seniors who don't want to deal with the complexity of computers. No wonder we struggle to make sense of new technology and give up unless someone persists in showing us. Here's a crazy thought: In our digital future, we will be able to start up a device, select a subset of its capabilities, customize its user experience to our language, brightness, sound, selected applications, and have remembered configuration of those apps across devices. Even today, we are recognizable to these devices based on our pre-defined profiles, but these profiles are not always recognized. For example, see differences in behavior in Netflix on a PC versus through Microsoft Kinect and XBox Live. This is particularly perplexing in a world in which so many of our behaviors are stored on host machines connected to the Internet -- see Gmail asking if I would like to attach a document since I used the word 'attachment' in the e-mail.

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Agree with you about the "woah!" factor of gaming - incredible numbers. And It's not just about teaching the old adults how to tweet, but - the theory goes - how cognitive (and now physical with wii and kinect etc) training will help them roll back the years. I've been speaking with some neurologists about this and the opinions about effectiveness are mixed (it could be as much about social interaction at the test center as it is about cognitive improvements per se). Any strong opinions about the effectiveness of cognitive training for the elderly, and favorite companies? A couple of decent looking solutions here (no affiliation): and I think personally am much more in favor of things that are fun first (like wii / kinect) and people running around, than the rather dry, academic stuff.
Btw - good blog, thanks. Am now a regular.

Hi Laurie--

Thanks for this comment in your post... "Clearly there is a great bi-directional mentoring opportunity out there -- teens teaching old adults how to tweet, older adults providing remedial guidance on how to communicate face-to-face."

I've had the great privilege to bring people together to capture life stories. At the core, it's really about building or strengthening relationships. There's nothing more beautiful than watching a 15-year-old listen closely to their 85-year-old partner....the younger asking questions and typing someone's life story online, the older teaching through story. A win-win experience for all.

Thanks for raising awareness of the need for real relationships in this high-tech world. The social network needs to come full circle -- what's old is NEW again! How cool is that!

Beth Sanders

I find this subject very interesting. Seniors today are getting to be very tech savvy but just don't see the connection between what is happening and how it might apply to their life. The simple kindle is an example. When our vision begins to fade or is compromised by cataracts, we need help keeping up with our reading. When the kindle and all the other ereaders appeared, the problem of small print and book weight was solved. As it turned out this was the perfect device for the aging retiree. I am sure no one even thought about the technology-aging connection. I personally use mine with the enlarged print and have no eye strain at all. I agree that when we find a connection that simplifies the process of jumping from one piece of technology to another, we will have taken a giant leap forward. Poke the right people please!!! b

We are seeing more demand for communications products for live-in, or live nearby, caregivers to communicate with elderly people. More products for this market are being developed, but there are such a wide variety of applications, current products don't seem to fit the bill all the time. I'm trying to figure out what elderly intercom products could be developed for this market. Any advice would be welcome.


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