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Technology Reimagined in an Age-Friendly Way


By Steven B. Katz, JD, MBA, LLM, MPH, CPA, CMC, CDP, FACHE
and Brittany C.S. Weinberg, MBA, MSG

A senior couple laugh as they video chat from the screen of their unrecognizable granddaughter's digital tablet screen. She hold's the tablet with both hands.

When we think of ‘technology’ we might imagine the latest smartwatch, fitness tracker, smart home technologies, self-driving cars, or other devices that we have seamlessly incorporated into our lives. For many of us, we use these devices to count our steps, manage the temperature of our homes, send text messages to our friends, track our health goals, and more. But, when was the last time you considered the age-friendly aspect of this technology?

As many of us are acutely aware, our nation is aging at a rapid pace, making the development and adoption of age-friendly technology that much more urgent. According to the United States Census Bureau the number of adults in the U.S. population age 65 or older increases from 49.2 million in 2016 to 78.0 million in 2035 to 94.7 million in 2060. The year 2030 will mark an important demographic turning point in United States history where for the first time older adults age 65 and older will be 20% of our population and will outnumber children under 18. This rapid increase in our aging population is not only due to the baby boomers hitting retirement age but is also due to a 9-year increase in the United States’ life expectancy rate from 69.7 in 1960 to 78.6 in 2016.

The issues surrounding an aging population affect most countries and has garnered a great deal of attention worldwide. We are all seeking to take advantage of our longevity bonus and maximize the quality of life as we and those that we love age while adjusting to make an age friendlier world for an older population that have their own unique set of needs. In fact, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Department of Aging and Life Course includes age-friendly as one of its 5 strategic priority areas. WHO describes an age-friendly world as one that “enables people of all ages to actively participate in community activities and treats everyone with respect, regardless of their age. It is a place that makes it easy for older people to stay connected to people that are important to them. And it helps people stay healthy and active even at the oldest ages and provides appropriate support to those who can no longer look after themselves.”

Utilizing Technology for the Elderly

Innovators in aging are utilizing technology along two main streams, both of which aim to improve our quality of life as we age. One stream is more physically health-related focusing on monitoring our health and/or preventing or delaying the onset of an illness or disability as we age. The second stream focuses on our psycho-social well-being as we age, and is concerned with preventing isolationism, engagement and purpose, communication, and ease of living our everyday lives. Currently all types of organizations from start-up to large technology companies, health care organizations, insurance companies, for-profit and not-for-profit aging service providers, aging advocacy organizations, and government entities are spending time, energy, and money to understand how we can use technology to help us live more engaging, healthy, fulfilling, and independent lives as we age.

So, what does this mean for you if you are an older adult, a caregiver, a child of an older adult, or an aging professional/provider? To start with it means that our face-to-face human encounters and connections are more important than ever. Living longer for an older adult means staying connected to the people that are important to them and that connection is a personal one. Technology can enhance and enrich our health as well as our lives and allow us to extend our engagement with people, but it does not substitute for our basic need for personal human connection and interaction. At the same time, it means that we need to embrace technology to improve and maintain our own physical and psycho-social health and well-being.

It is important to realize that aging technology is not just electronics. It encompasses any application of knowledge that can be used to solve real-life problems faced by an aging population ideally tailored to an individual’s preferences and needs. The solutions presented by aging technology can impact many aspects of our lives including community and social engagement, sense of purpose, physical and cognitive health, fitness, mobility, transportation, financial well-being, lifestyle, and care choices to name just a few.

Age-Friendly Technology

Here is a scenario that shows how age-friendly technology can seamlessly integrate into our lives and impact multiple aspects of it – social, health, and more. Beth and Tom want to take their elderly father, Frank, out to dinner for his 90th birthday. They may use several different types of age-friendly technologies in the process. First, Tom might use the Gillette Treo to shave his father’s face. Before Tom begins the shave, Frank asks the Amazon Echo Show to play an old favorite song of his for the occasion called ‘Shaving Cream’ by Benny Bell, and they sing the chorus together laughing with the song’s silly lyrics. Next, he brings his father his Seismic clothing to wear underneath his suit. This will help support him during the birthday celebration at the local restaurant. At the restaurant, they sit in a quiet, well-lit area that is accessible from the main part of the restaurant via a wide ramp. The nearby family bathroom has adequate lighting, sleek grab bars, and ample room for a wheelchair so either Beth or Tom can assist their dad to go to the bathroom in a private comfortable manner. Tom spots the waiter bringing his father a cake with a candle in it, so he quickly FaceTimes his out-of-state sister so that she can join them in singing happy birthday with Frank’s new baby grandson. After a wonderful evening of celebrating together, Beth points out to her father that the Apple Watch she purchased for him, with the stylish stainless steel band, counted 1,000 steps that evening – a stat worth celebrating! Once back at his father’s home, Tom notices that the hallway between the bedroom and bathroom is rather dark. He joins the waitlist for a Leeo Smart Alert nightlight, which integrates seamlessly with the Leeo Ping service his family uses. Beth and Tom both feel a bit more comfortable that dad’s new Apple Watch can monitor his heart rate and with FallCall Lite can also act as a personal response system should dad fall when they are not with him. Last but not least, Beth and Tom hug their father goodnight and thank him for letting them take him out for his birthday.

As the scenario above illustrates, the end goal of age-friendly technology is to create an environment that is conducive for an engaged, connected, and healthy lifestyle and that supports the option of aging in place. Solutions may vary from person to person, and the range of age-friendly technology can support that diversity.

What Are Some Driving Forces Impacting Age-Friendly Technology?

If you are feeling the pressure of your own family aging, you are not alone. In fact, a large portion of Americans are feeling the ‘pressure’ of an aging nation. As noted above, many people, companies, and organizations are taking notice and are shifting attention to age-friendly technology to help us with these pressures.

Some driving forces of age-friendly technology include:
● Living Longer
● Erosion of Local Support Networks
● More Demanding Older Adults (and their loved ones)
● Rapid and Low-Cost Technology Development
● Shortage of Healthcare Workers and Caregivers
● Shifting Healthcare Structure to Value-Based Care

You are probably seeing one or more of the above forces in your own family. Does your family have relatives in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, or maybe even over 100? We are seeing greater longevity, compared to prior generations, as more and more people live to be older with manageable chronic conditions. Now, also consider the fact that children and grandchildren of older adults are often living in different parts of the nation or world. This makes the situation that much more complex – with parents living to be older AND children and grandchild living in a different town, state, or country.

An additional force driving this type of technology is that we expect more from this technology. Gone are the days when we will settle for clunky, unimaginative, expensive technology. How many of you remember your first printer? First computer? First music player? Technology has come a long way since then and we – including older adults – demand and deserve technology that is beautifully designed, is affordable and was created with the end users in mind. Age-friendly technology should also be cognizant of any stigmas attached to the technology. Like Seismic’s clothing or the Apple Watch examples, we want age-friendly solutions that are discrete, functional, elegant, and personalize to our lifestyle and tastes.

The deployment of such technology will continue to be quicker and cheaper, given the global economy, advances in manufacturing, and innovations in creating and distributing technology. This quicker and cheaper deployment of age-friendly technology should lead to an increase in access to solutions. In other words, if you need technology to help make your parents’ house a ‘smart home’ or communicate easily with your parents and their caregivers then you/they should easily have access to appropriate, affordable solutions.

The need for solution-solving, affordable technology is becoming more and more pressing, given the shortage of healthcare workers and caregivers in the United States and worldwide. The looming shortage of healthcare workers ranging from primary care physicians, nurses, allied health professions, and home care workers can only be addressed through increases in productivity using technology.

Technology and Healthcare Ecosystem

Another factor impacting the creation and use of age-friendly technology has to do with our own changing healthcare ecosystem, which is transitioning from a volume-based to value-based care model. So, instead of healthcare providers being paid for each service/procedure (fee-for-service), we are seeing a change to a payment model that pays providers based on the patient’s outcomes. This change in payment model encourages providers – like your local doctor, nurse, hospital, home health agency – to focus less on each service given to the patient and think more broadly about the patient’s overall well-being and health outcomes.

This approach may be especially complex for older adults according to The National Council on Aging (NCOA), who reports that “Older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. Eighty percent have at least one chronic condition, and nearly 70% of Medicare beneficiaries have two or more.” In general, good health supports an older adult’s ability to maintain their independence, engagement with the community, productivity, and security.

With such changes occurring, healthcare providers are incentivized more and more to incorporate technology into their practice in order to decrease costs, improve outcomes, decrease readmission rates, shorten (or prevent!) hospital stays, and improve patient satisfaction and engagement.

What Does This Mean Now…and For The Future?

In this modern, fast-paced world, we often find ourselves stretched thin and wanting to be in multiple places at once due to family, work, health, and other demands. You might have children still at home, a spouse with a high-stress job, a home that needs updating, parents or grandparents who are reaching their 70’s, 80’s, 90’s or 100’s…. Perhaps you are experiencing the role reversal of caring for an elderly parent. It is difficult to keep up with the demands of 21st-century life – our children’s school, doctor’s appointments, family engagements, work, marriage, our own health, hobbies, travel, and more. This is why technology is integrating more and more into our lives – both overtly and discretely. There are apps that alert you if you are physically active, home sensors that can detect if you have fallen, transportation apps to call a taxi to get you to and from your doctor’s appointment or downtown event, smartphones that allow you to FaceTime with family, doorbells with video cameras that let you see who is at your door, goods, groceries, and prescriptions that can be ordered using a voice first device by your bedside, access to telemedicine via your tablet that makes it easy and convenient to see a doctor from the comfort of your home, etc. Technology (not just electronics) is evolving to meet the demands of modern consumers of all ages who need convenient solutions for their busy lives.

As much as we want to believe that our parents will be superman and superwoman forever, realistically, there will come a day when we will have to offer support to our parents as they make decisions about age-friendly technology. We may even be put in the position of making that decision for them. So, we challenge you to imagine the following:

Imagine the ways we will be using technology to care for your own parents and grandparents or yourself in the coming years. Are you already using technology to connect with or care for your loved ones? If so, leave us a comment or send us a message.

As the video ‘The Near Future: A Better Place’ exemplifies, age-friendly technology will forever change the way we and our loved ones experience aging. So, the next time you see, wear, or purchase technology, just imagine its ability to support you now…and into the future.

Lastly, it is critical to point out that this increased need for technology does not replace humans. In fact, the increased use of age-friendly technology should increase human engagement. If done well, it should be a catalyst for additional person-to-person interaction and support. Moreover, it can and should enhance older adults’ ability to age-in-place and overall sense of well-being.



*Please note that the mentioning of any products in this post does not imply an endorsement. We are not promoting any products and do not benefit from the mentioning of any products in this post.

United States Census Bureau, National Population Projections (2017)

United States Census Bureau, National Population Projections (2017)

United States Center for Disease Control National Vital Statistics Report (2010)

United States Center for Disease Control National Vital Statistics Report (2018)

World Health Organization, Global Strategic Action Plan on Ageing and Health (2017)

World Health Organization, Toward and Age-Friendly World

Liu et al. Global Health Workforce Labor Market Projections for 2030 Human Resources for 2030 Human Resources for Health (2017) 15:11

National Council on Aging, Health Aging Fact Sheet (2018)

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