Technology and Older Adults: The Best Has Yet to Come
What role can technology play in enhancing the ability of seniors to age in place—in homes and in communities? View the full forum.
By Ryan Frederick
So far, technology has been more sizzle than substance in the senior care field. A number of sophisticated companies, including Intel, have tried and failed to create a large market for technology for older adults. It is a difficult task: many seniors have not grown up with technology and invariably the technology has not been simple and user-friendly. Indeed, in a recent meeting with an innovation team within a leading health system, one executive acknowledged that many solutions are five to 10 times more complex than required for widespread adoption.
Change is in the air, however. First, despite the challenges above, an increasing number of people and groups are jumping in to address the opportunity. This month Aging 2.0, a global innovation platform for aging and senior care, is launching 30 pitch events in 30 cities in 30 days. In this span, there will be hundreds of start-ups from around the world showcasing their ideas. The “longevity economy”, as described by Paul Irving, chairman of Center for the Future of Aging of the Milken Institute, has been discovered.
Second, the pedigree of these start-ups is improving. A recent and powerful example is Honor, a technology platform to enhance home care, which raised $20 million in the spring led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. I have seen first-hand talented entrepreneurs who are entering the field, an increasing number with prior start-up success and educated at prestigious universities.
But it’s not just about start-ups. Philips, the $20-billion diversified Dutch company, is redoubling its efforts in senior care and technology and doing so in a different way. They are focused on learning first-hand how older adults and their caregivers interact with technology and recently announced an AgingWell Hub in conjunction with the MIT AgeLab and Georgetown University. (Smart Living 360 has been selected as one of the participating organizations.) They intend to take these insights—leveraging design-thinking principles—and develop next generation products that work. Global, well-resourced companies, like Philips, have the potential to take viable technology solutions and scale them.
What does this all mean?
Our ability to successfully age in a place that we desire—in a place one calls home—will be far more true than it is today. Access to real-time health metrics will allow us to intervene pre-emptively and focus on preventative practices. It will be the dawn of “zero stage” cancer as Daniel Craft articulates in his TEDx talk Medicine’s future? There’s an App for That.
These advances could not come at a better time. One area that doesn’t get mentioned enough is the cost of care. With increasing longevity and a growing number of aging boomers, there will likely not be enough caregivers. Technology will help us mitigate this labor shortage while also helping bend the cost curve.
However, the onus for this advancement is not solely on technology providers. Housing developers and those retrofitting homes need to understand how technology can best be supported by built environments. Service providers must embrace technology and integrate it into their workflows to gain efficiency and reduce cost. Consumers must see the benefits of these technologies and provide feedback to help improve solutions.
It’s not unusual for technology to make bold promises and not meet these lofty expectations. That has been the reality to date with technology and senior care. This next chapter should be different. The best is yet to come.
Ryan Frederick is the founder and CEO of Smart Living 360.
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Any views expressed on this forum do not necessarily represent the views of the Health and Housing Task Force, its co-chairs, or the Bipartisan Policy Center.