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ASA’s Aging in America: so much talk about tech – so little tech

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.



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So nice seeing you and Robert in Washington. I liked your article about the dearth of tech at ASA. I’ve never attended ASA’s Aging in America conference, so I don’t really know what I’m missing. Please take these comments in that context…

- It's kind of expensive to exhibit and attend, so I have been choosing CES over ASA, but maybe that is a mistake.
- I've been coming to Mary Furlong’s What's Next Boomer Business Summit that is concurrent with ASA instead. And that is great for what I’m looking for in terms of business connections, etc.
- Senior housing companies have been so slow to adopt tech, I just didn't think the ROI on the show would be there for Presto. But again, maybe I am wrong.
- But most importantly, no one at ASA has reached out to me/us and made a solid pitch to get us into the show. I guess they just expect everyone to "know" why to exhibit.

Just some insight from one perspective. I highly respect what the ASA is doing and look forward to learning more about their conferences.


Peter Radsliff
Presto Services Inc.

The senior care market needs to learn from the special needs arena about ways to promote technology for this population. Check out Closing the Gap, the national repository for all technology related items. They have their own national conference http://www.closingthegap.com/conference/ each year totally devoted to sessions on technology and an amazing exhibitor's section.Someone in the field needs to take on this assignment!

We agree with Peter's comment above. Last year at ASA our booth was busy most of the time, but we saw very few of the geriatrics professionals we hoped to connect with. They were there - they just didn't visit "Tech Alley" in large numbers. We met a lot of B2B folks - nice to talk to, but they were selling, not buying. So many of the gero pros who did stop turned out to be searching for solutions for their own family members, it got to be a joke with us. But overall, the ROI didn't justify the high cost of this conference.

I'd like to hear if other companies (and experts like Orlov) share this assessment: gero pros are highly educated, dedicated people who hold the value in human relationships and services dear, but are resistent to technology solutions generally. Perhaps it's because they understand the complexity of aging problems very well and don't see how technology can meet the challenges they face (and they may be right).

Or maybe it's because the whole world of tech health is so commercialized: the entire endeavor is rooted in a profit-incentivized system rather than a social/professional services paradigm, which is their natural environment. My instinct is that if a new tech health system were developed by, let's say, the Mayo Clinic or the NIH, it would get a more favorable reception among geros.

Or maybe the large number of competing solutions and companies is just overwhelming. Some of them are just now getting used to digital records, and that seems hard enough. Navigating an aisle of strange-looking devices with hundred of features is daunting. Better instead to attend a highly-focused session on an understandable topic.

I suspect the health tech world needs to think about questions like these before their solutions break through.

Merilee, well said...You nailed it.
Too bad you weren't there; aia12 is the lesser for it.
Hopefully next year with these kinds of critical thinking insights it can be improved; enough to make the trip worth making.

Several other comments sent directly: "ASA does a mediocre job of marketing or promoting exhibitors" "ASA does show interest in having me exhibit" "Vendors I talk to think that conferences like ASA or AARP are not interested in vendors."

I would echo Peter's comments. We attend LeadingAge, ALFA, and Mary Furlong's event. I frankly hadn't heard of ASA - neither from them or any senior housing operators.

Most of all, I agree that although technology is critical to senior housing communities they are very slow to adopt it. Until senior housing communities start adopting technology more extensively, the tech companies won't be able to afford to come to more shows like ASA.

Yes Although technology is truly critical to the quality of life of the elderly society and senior housing communities, however they are very slow to adopt it.

To my view the only way to make it happen is by converting technology into a sustainable service platform addressing the real daily life needs and agenda of the senior customers
Shoshan Shacham
Homage For Life

I totally agree with Laurie that if we expect technology to be embraced by more individuals who work within the lives of older adults they need to understand and experience first-hand the technology and its implications in improving the care of seniors as well as those who are responsible for caring for them. My company also presented on technology at ASA and this is the second year that we have attended. Our presentation was well attended and there were many individuals who were curious about how to integrate technology into care-giving. However a common question that I heard from many individuals at the conference in general whenever technology was mentioned was, “Does Medicare cover it?” as if all technology must be reimbursed in order for people to use them? Reimbursement is a common theme for many, however there are thousands of individuals who are adopting many of these technologies without reimbursement, because they are needed and they make sense in improving the lives of both the user and those who care for them. We will attend ASA again as there is so much to learn from an incredible range of people and perhaps next year we will even exhibit, as we are a leader in working on technology adoption and providing training for technology users and those they care for.

I echo what Ms. Duthie says about the interest in technologies for elder caregiving being covered by Medicare. Everyone should know that even if today, those technologies may not be covered by Medicare, that doesn’t mean that TODAY hundreds of thousands or even millions of people aren't already using technology to help their elder loved ones! It is not a “chicken and egg” problem that many have suggested. Technology is being used NOW by many, many families to ease the burden of caregiving and to help those who need it most to live better, safer and more enriching lives.

What is also true, however, is that many millions MORE people could benefit from these technologies that already exist if they were 1) more well known, and 2) paid for—in whole, or in part—by some type of insurance coverage. Considering the high costs of institutionalization in senior care facilities and hospital re-admissions, it is possible for deployment of these technologies to actually SAVE money for the insurance companies, the government, and taxpayers. We need to see significant pilot programs put in place immediately to vet these technologies and help find out which make the most sense for deployment and coverage through public or private insurance.

Who is going to lead this issue? If you think it is important, please comment below, or write to your elected representatives asking what they intend to do to stave off the huge cost of caring for baby boomers as they age.

Peter Radsliff
Chairman, Aging Technology Alliance
CEO, Presto Services Inc.

Agree with the comments about insurance and a need for leadership in the public sector. My sense is that European countries are ahead of the US in formulating and implementing policies that foster adoption of technologies. Even at the local level, there is interest among officials in identifying methods to help people stay in their own homes, with an eager eye for tech. Here we seem to have a clear sense of the oncoming tsunami of health care costs, but the political system is paralyzed. Peter, I guess you're right: we need to contact our Congressional reps!

We do geriatric bio-design work in the frail-care industry for the last 7 years, in Canada. Its is hard staying enthusiastic as a sector developer when so many products are prematurely denigrated and ripped before they get a foot hold. The computing industry thrives on risk and creative failure. They do ship many 'beta class' (imperfect) products, often before all the bugs get worked out because there is a collegial attitude in the tech community that understands what it takes to create and then commercially implement entire new product lines. Cutting edge innovation is a common value with techies. Honest failure is respected. Not so in this sector. Presenting a new product in this sector is rife with reputational risk for developers as many get unfairly accused by the health service/labor sector (and 2nd tier procurement deciders – a.k.a. 'adult children caring for parents') that offerings are too complex, too expensive, ill conceived, (and yes many are). Because the senior-focused product area has so many emotional land -mines, there is an unspoken attitude that products should be almost for free, or very cheap. No one talks about the inordinate liability for trying to do something in this arena. New products are generally regarded with suspicion or outright doubt ... especially by health care providers. That is why the tech aisle at conferences are empty. Expect more of this. Most have gone on to other more welcoming commercial areas where 'suspicion of intention' is not so high. When 'boomers' age as 'doomers', it will cost $150,000 to $250,000 per year to house a frail-senior because our only acceptable and continuing default option as yet is very expensive, and based on low-productivity labor. Sigh... you can't win.

I'm sympathetic with Mr. Moerman's complaint to a degree. It IS hard to produce tech devices with no glitches. In spite of extensive testing and piloting, new customers can put the device to new uses and strains that reveal weaknesses. Nevertheless, those of us aiming to help the vulnerable elderly population and their overstressed caregivers have a special responsibility to get it right. A device that acts up in the hands of a 20-year-old tech enthusiast using it for movies, making videos, music, and cool apps is one thing; a device helping a frail 80-something with complex medication schedules is quite another. We may not be perfect, but we should expect to be held to a higher standard than other segments of the tech industry.

I came away from ASA 2012 struck by two main impressions:

  • Aging tech out of the box user experience needs to be as simple as a kitchen blender. We still have way too much set-up. More important, many solutions look like hammers searching for nails - the use cases seem so specialized or the user interactions so complex that I have trouble imagining precisely when the product or service will be deployed.
  • Solutions need to be driven at the local and community level, rather than the Federal. I saw many well-intentioned programs, but all seemed to be better suited for community rather than Federal deployment. Meals on Wheels is probably a good model to follow, with local agencies and volunteers serving within an umbrella of a much more wide-spread program. (For more thoughts on this, see my blog post on Aging in America 2012.

Much of the change that needs to occur is in the outlook of the generation about to face this issue for our parents and ourselves - those between 40 - 70 with parents 70 - 100. No technology or government program can produce that.

As for elder tech trends themselves, I continue to think about the elder care hub that Laurie has discussed in the past. We continue to see device after device that provides useful information, but no good way to integrate all that data into a consolidated view of what is going one. To me online family portals, integrated into the care team and the myriad devices and services used to support an elder living alone, remain the key to keeping people safer and more comfortable in the homes of their choosing - longer, and less expensively.

Jim Reynolds
Caring Companion Home Care


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