Live Long and Prosper: 5 ways to age in place and how wearable tech can help.

Baby boomers have begun turning 70. That’s right, the endlessly young, don’t-trust-anyone-over-30 youth counter culture is now aging. And, if they’re lucky, aging in place. Aging in place is a term for remaining in one’s own home, living on one’s own, for as long as possible, with maximum independence and health.

At no other point in human history have so many people lived so long, and so well. Advances in hygiene and medicine have increased life expectancy: the average 65-year-old woman can expect to live until 88.6 (86.6 for men). 25% of them will live past 90. But what about the quality of those years?

Aging in place

The 2017 Market Overview Technology for Aging in Place reports:

  • More than 80% of older Americans live at home.  
  • Almost half of those >75 live alone.

As they age, this group will get more of their health care at home.

  • Rising health costs make other options cost-prohibitive.
  • The majority of baby boomers haven’t saved enough for assisted living.
  • Increased life expectancy engenders a longer end of life health arc.
  • People are living so long that their caregiver children are themselves aging.

Tech solutions like wearables could help promote optimal aging in place.  But are they being sufficiently used?

In 2016, the AARP began asking its members about wearable tech use. The results? Just 11% of people over 50 own a wearable device.  (19% of 50+ year olds, 10% of 60+, and just 3% of those over 70.) Women and men were equally likely to use the devices.

Although older Americans are embracing personal technology, their adoption rate for wearables has lagged behind that of smartphones and computers. This leaves an untapped capacity: 89% of people over 50 can improve their health with wearable tech. But the devices are only useful if they are actually being used.

What do the experts say?

To maximize use, makers of wearable tech and robotics must avoid ‘design intoxication’, and give adequate weight to user experience—especially for aging populations that may be tech-trepidatious.  In other words, make tech easy to use and understand, especially for people whose dexterity and vision may be waning. We asked two industry thought leaders to weigh in on opportunities and challenges.

Josh Koplin co-founded Humanistic Robotics, a robotics company at the forefront of human-machine collaboration. Koplin says humanoid robotics and wearables are a key to helping seniors age in place. 

“If you think of the problems seniors face, as far as having good companions, caretakers, and a sense of someone around to monitor and keep them active, you’ve got a massive opportunity that there simply are not enough people or money for.” New  technology, per Koplin, can “stave off loneliness, and even serve as a portal for their children and grandchildren.

Harpreet Singh, Founder and Co-CEO of Experfy outlines how big data can help ameliorate health challenges:  

According to analysis by United Health Foundation, the next generation of senior citizens will be sicker and costlier to the health care system over the next 14 years than previous generations. Big Data can play a pivotal role in helping find cures to many diseases through personalization of medicine.  As efficacy of medicine increases, personalization will also help lower costs of treatment for some of the most preventable diseases among Boomers such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.  This, however, requires research  and investment  in genomics, big data computing and data science training.

Singh notes wearable tech adoption by those over 50 is already underway:  

We see blood pressure monitors being displaced by wearable tech.  We see bluetooth connected hearing aid devices providing better listening experience when it comes to making phone calls and listening to music.  There is also a growing intersection of wearables with analytics enabling big dataanalysts to solve real-world intractable problems related to healthcare.

Caregivers

It’s not just baby boomers who are embracing technology. The people who care for them are hungry for solutions too. You know what older folk want? Privacy! Independence. You know what their grown children want? Peace of mind. Wearable tech may be the happy compromise.

A recent AARP survey concluded that “Technology holds great promise for helping to reduce the complexities, stress, and sheer hard work for caregivers.”  67 percent of caregivers say health monitoring devices could lighten their load, but only a fraction are actually using them.

Five steps to successfully Age in Place

Folks are living longer than ever, and the accuracy and efficacy of wearable tech has advanced exponentially. The collision between these two trends will increasingly allow baby boomers to age in place, independently and vibrantly.   

The sky’s the limit! But it will not happen magically: it requires effort and planning on our part.

Embrace these 5 ideas now if you aim to age in place:

  1. Stay healthy. Get in in shape and stay in shape.
  2. Senior-proof your house. Only 1% of current homes are adequately set up for aging. Homes need to be flatter, simpler, brighter and wider.
  3. Plan early, before you need to. Now is the best time to strategize and invest. This helps keep your options open.
  4. Get your geek on. Technology fosters health and independence.  The Journals of Gerontology published a recent study assessing the impact of wearable tech (specifically, an accelerometer measuring gross motor activity throughout the day). The subjects were elderly men already enrolled in an existing osteoporosis study.(Osteoporotic Fractures in Men).  Preliminary results indicate a correlation between measured activity, sleep, cognition, and mortality.  Baseline measurements of vitals signs such as resting heart rate and oxygen saturation enable people to identify health issues while they are still fixable.
  5. Save your money. Sure, technology is becoming ever more affordable, and aging in place is more cost effective than assisted living or nursing care. But it’s still not free: a  financial advisor can help you develop a realistic plan.

“You don’t have to get old.

Expansions in life expectancy have made possible a life our ancestors could never envision. Advances in technology, healthcare and robotics have expanded the potential quality of this penultimate phase of our lives. We just need to take control.

In the words of immortal comedian George Burns, “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.

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