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Tech for aging needs innovation from young people

Young people and seniors -- a non-obvious formula.  A few years ago Scientific American published a study asserting that socialization between young and elderly improves the health and well-being of seniors (yeah, so the study was about fruit flies -- never mind that).  This week a few other news items caught my eye:

1) A new business to surf the web on behalf of tech-phobic seniors.  Netcrossers was started by Morey Wright, a 26-year-old in South Florida who saw this as a business opportunity. For $199/year, seniors can call Netcrossers up and ask agents to do a search for information -- or support them in their use of computers if they have one.

2) A nationwide high school enrichment program in Canada produced a clever wheelchair braking system. Complete with a working prototype and a 30-page business plan, these kids designed an chair arm extension that would automatically brake when leaned on, avoiding the risk of falling. 

3) UCLA undergrads raise awareness of issues of aging. Members of UGADA (Universal Gerontology & Alzheimer's Disease Awareness) held a forum this spring as part of the 'largest undergraduate symposium on Alzheimer's Disease and Aging in the US.'

Synthesize to produce value now and for our aging future.  Today's tech for aging is, too often, comprised of unintegrated point products (GPS over here, fall detection over there, helpful social connectivity software someplace else). Over time, these point technologies will be integrated into solutions as a logical, if slow, next evolutionary step.  But perhaps basic technology innovation is not all that's needed.  Given awareness of a need (1 and 3), offering a challenge to young people might result in integrating a new element to an existing solution (2).

Challenge and grow your network: If you have any connection to the aging services industry, sponsor a contest. Start by arranging a combination meeting -- perhaps with a high school enrichment program sponsor, a college student community outreach program, and perhaps backing it with an investment angel organization or foundation that is seeking product ideas. Explain the demographic changes underway. Don't suggest unmet needs -- bring them where seniors live to observe and even volunteer for a period of time. Then see what ideas emerge. Something truly remarkable could happen!


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As a 31 year old PhD gerontologist and systems engineer, I couldn't agree more with your post!

I am the author of a blog called Tech-Savvy Daughter (http://www.caring.com/blogs/tech-savvy-daughter). My mission is to expose older adults to exciting new technologies both online (e.g. smart searching, productivity tools, fun sites) and offline (e.g. mobile phones, Tivo, Wii). I provide straightforward information and tutorials to help my readers quickly and easily expand their technology repertoire - in a way that is fun, not frustrating!

I also teach gerontology to undergraduate students at Georgia State University. In my classes, I talk a lot about innovation and entrepreneurship for our aging society. I believe there is tremendous opportunity in this area!

Tech-Savvy Daughter Blog
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Hi Laurie,
I am optimistic about where aging in place design is going. As the digital natives begin to use their technical skills and ability to collaborate we will see all sorts of amazing advances. A few years ago, as we tried to help an aging parent stay in her home, just about everything in her kitchen was inappropriate for her to grasp or hold. Now, just a few years later, there are all sorts of large handle, easy grip devices for aging hands so aging seniors can continue to do whatever they want to do in the kitchen. Just the other day I saw an easy-to-use corkscrew. New mobility devices, I believe, will debut over the next few years.

A few months ago I posted an interesting story, Mobility Aids: Thinking About Improved Devices, describing a course for students at the University of Cincinnati School of design. Course participants were asked to design user friendly and visually appealing mobility devices. It"s an interesting and engaging story, and it includes a link to their video. Shortly after writing the piece, I interviewed one of the students, though I have not posted that yet.

I was enormously impressed this project and also with the students' orientation before they started the design process.


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