Technology and Aging in Place: Insights,Take 2

Ben was worried. It was 1967. As The Graduate, he was worried about his future. Mr. McGuire had the answer, “Just one word…. Are you listening? … Plastics…. There’s a great future in plastics.”

Nearly fifty years later, listening to the presentation by Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director at AGE-WELL about Disrupting the Current Technology & Aging Landscape – I couldn’t help but drift to a thought that the answer for a contemporary Ben might be… Sensors…. There’s a great future in sensors. In relation to design and aging in place, that’s sensors in smart homes, sensors in textiles for clothing, sensors for monitoring and early detection of changes to health. We have already met that future.



Of course, there is more that goes along with all this monitoring. You add in the use of robotics and the management of big data as all part of the big picture that Alex Mihailidis asked us to think about at the Sheridan College, Centre for Elder Research Oct.27th event – Insights About Technology and Aging in Place. If you have a graduate in your family, they should have been there. Otherwise, you can still suggest they listen and watch for the career opportunities ahead in this space and tell them it is not simply about the apps, wearables and big data.



While we continue to advance career paths in technology fields, and we accept the constant, rapid development of the technologies themselves as a given; it’s the humanist connection that is the significant plug-in part of this story that we have to be reminded of here.

Often I’ve referenced Theodore Roszak’s humanist views of moving to “the compassionate economy”, in his book Longevity Revolution, where he further talks about “the caring imperative” and “caregiver politics”. And it was Alex Mihailidis who reminded me again of this humanist view, in his insights at Sheridan, when he asked the questions – what are the social implications of augmenting caregiving with these technologies, and what are the ethical and cultural aspects to be considered and incorporated in the process of technology development?

Of the four options for break out presentations at this Sheridan event, I chose to listen to John Helliker, Director of Strategic Partnerships and the Screen Industries Research & Training Centre (SIRT) at Sheridan College. His topic was Virtual & Augmented Reality: Opportunities for individual and social change within an aging population. Once again, that humanist view emerged and in particular, when he positioned Virtual Reality as an Empathy Machine.

Two things Helliker shared were a You Tube video by Alzheimer’s Research in the UK – A Walk Through Dementia (one of three on this web site); and the UK based, Nesta supported, Active & Assistive Living (AAL) Smart Ageing Challenge Prize winner – Active 84 Health Explorer. This Belgian entry was one of fifteen finalists, examples of what Helliker described as the power of media convergence to create a demand to focus on the individual and their social well-being.

As fascinating as the actual technologies are, featured by Mihailidis and Helliker, the big take away insight is around the central fact that we must always draw a line of sight from the technology to the value of usability for the people being tended to in their home, and for those who are the stewards of care. In that effort, as Helliker suggested, we are all invited investors, prosumers, in the creation of the products we eventually are willing to adopt and pay for.




Oh, and by the way Ben, there is a future in plastics and sensors in a market for aging in place.

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