Sunday, July 9, 2017

Crossroads for Boomers and Beyond:  Aging and Technology

Aging for baby boomers appears as polar opposite to the aging and retirement of our fathers and grandfathers--by miles.  Demographic numbers back-up this fact.  Current research findings indicate the following statistics about aging:

  • In 2000 the aging demographic for people over 60 years of age stood at 16.5%.  By the year 2025 that number grows to a whopping 25% of the American population.
  • Americans who are 65 years or older surpassed 50 million for the first time in 2016.  Researchers predict that number will hit 71 million by 2030, and 83 million by 2050.  M.I.T.'s Age Lab confirms that there are 77 million Americans born between 1946-1964.  The report continues by telling us that 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and are likely to continue that trend for the next 19 years. Now members of the boomer generation pass age 65 at a rate of nearly one every 7 seconds.
  • People are living longer--life expectancy at birth grew by 10.5 years between 1950-2010.  People who are 65 today may live roughly about 20 more years.  The Census Bureau said almost 90% of that cohort wish to remain in their home as they age.
        Boomers believe life should continue for their generation in ways never before experienced by previous generations on their life's journey.  Are boomers realistic about aging?  Yes, thanks to technology. Technology npw being developed mostly by millenials may well be the link between boomers and a higher quality of life for the "never-say-die baby boomers.
         Boomers created the World Wide Web, tablets, smartphones, Microsoft, and Apple.  Now, as this massive generation ages, technology translates into new research, gizmos, and apps to make life in the "golden years" safer and more enjoyable.  This adds up to potentially newer and easier ways to exercise expected freedoms and independence that boomers see as a must for modern aging.  You may ask, how is this playing out today and tomorrow?  A new world lurks within your smartphone, and computers spurred on by Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the app development talents of millenials.
         Scientists are developing everything everything from mattress sensors that monitor heart rate, to smart walkers that look for obstacles, to belts that deploy air bags if someone is about to fall. Researchers work hand in hand with tech companies to fight the indignities of aging and to help people live longer and better in their own homes.  "Aging in Place", still in its relative infancy, is driven by tech savvy boomers who hate the stigma and reality of getting older, both for themselves and their elderly parents.  Millenials provide the engine to empower boomers to put that stigma to rest.
         Active Protective, a Philadelphia based company, developed a "smart belt" that's able to sense when a person is about to fall.  Small airbags deploy offering protection to that person's hips.  The National Council on Aging said that 2.8 million Americans are treated in emergency rooms for falls each year, and that 800,000 of those patients end up hospitalized.  Falls contribute to roughly 27,000 death per year.
         Tech giant Google--a bastion of youth--has come to realize that baby boomers may well be early adopters of self-driving cars in development.  Other businesses are making it easier for people with arthritis or tremors to wear small, specialized monitors that provide real-time tracking of their health vitals.
         Virtual reality research on aging at San Diego State's Neuromechanics and Neuroplacticity Lab places sensors on a person's brain and other parts of the body as test subjects over 60 experience different scenarios while immersed in a VR environment that turns a lab floor into a virtual reality of a narrow plank 60 feet in the air.  Data collected will assist in creating algorithms to predict when a person is about to fall.
           Ocuvera, a start-up based in Lincoln Nebraska, employs 3D cameras, and advanced software to analyze the body language of patients in hospital beds.  M.I.T. fosters related work producing WiGait, a small sensor that studies a person's gait to observe signs of stroke or Parkinson's Disease.
          An estimated one-third of Americans 65 or older live alone.  That figure jumps to 50% by the time a person hits 85.  Scientists and physicians posit that living alone can cause a profound sense of loneliness and isolation for some people which in turn can lead to health complications--notably depression, substance abuse, and high blood pressure.  Studies continue to show that loneliness can also contribute to dementia and early death.
          Safety and loneliness well provide the hurdles for boomers aging in place, and there's a major shortage of professional caregivers who make in-home visits.  Here comes technology offering significant help for the aging U.S. population.
           People who live alone or feel detached from social engagement also can connect to others through devices such as Amazon Echo/Alexa and Google Home, both of which are voice activated personal assistants. The Echo can be used for person to person phone calls, while Amazon recently added a video screen called "Show".  The competition to Amazon (Samsung, Google and Apple) is developing similar technology to Echo Show.  For older folks with hand tremors and other physical limitations voice activated assistants can be a reasonable improvement to the swipe and wipe features in smartphones. If only Amazon Echo or Google home would remind our kids to call or visit.
           GreatCall markets a network of tiny sensors strategically positioned in the homes of seniors choosing to "age in place".  Sensors monitor whether these folks are going about their daily activities, such as getting in and out of bed, preparing meals, and using the bathroom.  This network of sensors looks for worrisome changes in a person's daily routines, and alerts off-site caregivers if such changes occur.  This technology gives a holistic picture of in-home activities for caregivers.
            One can imagine the awestruck suspicion that parents and grandparents of boomers would give at these "newfangled" approached to aging.  I guess they'd react with their heads a shaking to find "The Clapper" and "Life Alert" to be already obsolete technology for Baby Boomers.

Have to run.  My Echo calls.