Technology and Aging in Place: Insights,Take 1

As you think about the current cohort of older people, maybe your parents, grandparents or friends much older than you are, who are living in their own home with health and/or mobility issues – aging in place as it were, how often do you think about how technology plays a part in making this reality function for them? As a caregiver in this situation, are you even aware to what degree technology solutions are augmenting this experience today, never mind tomorrow?

If I were to hazard a guess on a scale of 1-10, ten being highest awareness, I might score you a five at best. As I said in a recent post, these may still be early days for technology augmenting aging in place, but the world of research and development, within academic and business spheres in collaboration, is working on what all this will mean to improving the way we live out the promise of greater longevity.

From what I learned last week, it only re-affirmed for me that this area of discovery will likely lead to be the norm, more integrated into the social system of home and healthcare in the next decades to come, for future cohorts of older people who are currently witness and support to the later life aging process of their parents. So the questions become, how can we learn now about what’s in the works for us, and what say do we have in the development of new technologies?

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Insights About Technology and Aging in Place. That was the title of the event presented by the Sheridan College, Centre for Elder Research in Oakville Oct.27th. I’ve been following this intersection where technology meets aging & longevity for some time now and it was more than an insightful moment at Sheridan, to listen to Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director at Toronto based AGE-WELL talk about Disrupting the Current Technology & Aging Landscape.

 

 

It takes a great flow through thinker to take any major subject and land it where you can see it on its multiple levels, and yet appreciate it in practical, relatable ways to an audience outside the primary circle of a professional working group. For me, a studious watcher of the game, Alex Mihailidis did just that. Even for those at Sheridan last Thursday, who had heard Mihailidis present on this before, found his delivery had some fresh insights. My only wish was that there should have been more time for a well-facilitated conversation with the audience.

As easy as it might be to jump into talking about the technologies themselves, my first instinct here is to look at two points from the overarching themes stemming from this presentation. First is to comment on the idea of disruption. Overused phrase in some circles these days, Mihailidis referenced the 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. To me, this classic still informs thinking twenty years on, but it was clear some in the audience had not heard of it.

What Mihailidis did was distill the concept to contend, simply put, that disruptive innovation forces us to think differently, and to paraphrase him, in a world where technology development moves at warp speed, we can’t be incremental in developing technologies for aging in place if we are to transform the market; disruption he said requires inspiration. Just who is the customer in this market that most likely would provide inspiration?

Going back to the beginning of this post, is it not safe to start with the caregivers who largely make the purchasing decisions for solutions to augment the aging in place of their parents, grandparents or friends? This leads to the second comment, product usability. As Mihailidis pointedly said, if the actual adoption of any technology is ideally to be made jointly with the older person concerned, the primary question always is – “will this technology make a difference to you?”

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