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Connecting disability, longevity and technology for seniors

Did you know that nearly 40% of seniors report having a disability? In the category of number obsession, this new snapshot of a government report caught my eye and should catch yours – it is referencing 16 million people. The report notes six types of disability reported in census data: hearing, sight, thinking and memory, walking, self-care and independent living.  From the MedlinePlus release: "People older than 85 accounted for more than 25 percent of all disabilities among seniors, although they represented only 14 percent of the overall senior population."

Really – this includes everyone? Perhaps you are wondering how this could be correct and also incorporate the full population of seniors living in nursing homes (1.4 million) or those in assisted living (735,000) – half of whom have some form of dementia and all of whom may or may not be talking with census surveyors.  Note from this NCAL site that more than half in assisted living are 85 or older; 87% in assisted living need help with meal preparation; and 81% need help with medications.  So given the 'independent living' and related questions on the census, let’s assume that we are talking about the potential of 19 million people with some sort of disability based on these census definitions.

Living longer – not necessarily living better. In 2010, there were nearly 2 million people aged 90+ in the US, 74% of them women, mostly white, with an average annual income of $13,580. Social Security made up about 48 percent of total income. Why are these women living so long? According to the interviewed doctor, they have had "better diet, medical care, had fewer accidental deaths in the workplace and received better emergency care for acute conditions such as heart attacks." Is this a good quality of life?  Not so much. They’re not necessarily healthy at 90, with most having "hearing loss, eye problems, dementia and cardiovascular disease."

To care for them – innovators wanted.  Imagine that in 2050, there are 9 million people, mostly women, who will be aged 90+.  Further, remember the AARP caregiver support ratio report. It predicts that by 2050, when all baby boomers will be in their late life, the caregiver support ratio will be 1:3 (versus today's 1:7). That is, there will only be three people aged 45-64 (the average age of caregivers) to care for one person that will need care. Consider today’s health tech investment -- focus on wearable-this and Digital Health-that. No doubt that investment will need to be redirected by 2050. Some ideas will be expected from some of today’s young innovators who by 2050 will be in their prime caregiver years. Likely they will have parents who have some type of disability. Let’s see them come up with some useful ideas for enabling a better quality of life for the very old.  Invent great technologies that make it easier to monitor and motivate them; think of ways to help preserve their mobility; how they can stay in touch with far-flung family members; and how best to mitigate the impact of dementia and loss of vision. So what ideas and innovations do we want -- for children and ourselves? Thoughts are most welcome.


I don't believe the challenges here can focus only on enabling caregivers. An important part of the solution has to empower seniors to be more self-sufficient in spite of facing increasing disabilities.

You make a great point, Tandy. Giving seniors the tools to remain independent and have a voice in their care plan is critical. We need to create progressive plans for seniors who choose to live at home, just as there are plans for those who choose to enter assisted living, stepping up their level of assistance and services when they need to.

Tandy, good points.

The term is "Self-Efficacy" See:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-efficacy

There is a robust social shift with boomers (fueled by gerontophobia) towards a more empowered and self-determined aging--unfortunately for our current senior cohort the cultural trance on aging as disease/decline is entrenched. This group is "aged by culture" and many have bought into it. I'm not talking HAPPY GERONTOLOGY HERE, you can't dismiss the age-related declines, but many seniors have learned to be old.

Boomers will exhibit more self-efficacy out of the gate and won't have to battle the cultural messaging to the degree the WWII generation has. Now, having said all this, bolstering up senior's self-efficacy is an effective area to invest time. Small personal victories build on themselves and seniors can increase self-sufficiency with time.

I agree, this is where more energy should be focused.

Every senior does everything in their power to be self-sufficient. We use canes, hearing aids, walkers, and anything else we can get our hands on to help. But there comes a time when we just can't get out of that chair without help. It makes us mad as hell, so yes we become grouchy. There is no magic technology to help when the only thing that will work is a loving and caring hand to reach out and help us get out of the chair. I am sorry, but empowering us won't get us out of the chair.



Senior's want to be independent, and not be a burden on others. If there is a technology that will help, I'm all for that. Many of us are low income and do not have access to beneficial health care or technology that might help. Exercise is so important but most of us don't do it. We need that push and encouragement but again, where is that going to come from. Not an MD who we periodically see and tells us to exercise. I feel we need no fee invested organizations that will go the extra mile. Seniors with dementia, and all degenerative diseases can benefit physically and emotionally from exercise. We even have chair exercises. But then again left alone on our own, we probably won't do it.