AGE-WELL 2019 Webinar 2 Report.

How AGE-WELL Technology is Changing Homes of the Future & Promoting Independence for All

Technology and aging. How will it support “the rising tide of caregiving for older adults, and in this case in the home environment?” That is how Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director at AGE-WELL, set up the opening of last week’s second webinar. Even though there has been increased activity in technology development over the last few years, through AGE-WELL in Canada and others around the world, we are still arguably in a nascent stage in this field.

So Dr. Mihailidis suggested when he said, “we need to do better” and paraphrasing him further, how can we move these technologies faster from the lab into the hands of the end user – older adults and their caregivers? I heard him speak live on this in October 2016 at a Sheridan College Centre for Elder Research symposium and it appears to me that his same frustration still exists.

As I noted in recent posts, ‘tis the season of the pitch. With all the pitch presentations for technology and aging going on these days, Mihailidis in this April 24th webinar, commented on one of the issues with all these designers and start-ups around “failure to launch”, a much-repeated observation from others as well, such as those on stage at the April 1st MaRS HealthKick – Intersection of Innovation & Aging event.

What makes AGE-WELL stand out with respect to this pitch and launch issue, is their “Crosscutting Activity Teams” approach and the pan-Canadian core of strategic partners in their network, which includes universities, colleges, private sector industry, governments and non-profit organizations. Mihailidis is insistent that professionals in this field need to work collaboratively, away from any silo mentality – and most importantly, include older adults and their caregivers as part of the innovation process.

One of the most significant considerations in this innovation process, as Dr. Mihailidis stated is “who are we designing these technologies for – the older adult of today or of tomorrow?” If we think about how long the road is from research to design, test, pitch, produce and purchase, the tech-based products that will be more highly adaptive, or shall we say more broadly used by consumers, it will be the older adults of five to ten years from now who will benefit the most.

Contrary to myth, older adults are more tech-savvy now and in many cases, as Mihailidis pointed out, some of them and their caregivers are innovating on their own, or demanding that newer technologies become available to replace older, still currently used items that have some stigma attached in the mind of the user. One memorable webinar slide drove this home, a med-alert buzzer around the neck of an older adult, which makes her look much as if she’s wearing a cowbell.  

Returning to how technology solutions will change homes of the future, Mihailidis broke things out into three categories with a few examples:

Smart Homes – prompting systems, sensors in furniture, stairs and floors that monitor activity

Robotics – social and cognitive robotic devices that augment issues such as social isolation

Big Data – devices, sensors collecting personal data to determine living patterns over three years, predicting changes in wellness room by room and time of day

Some or none of this may be new to you, and to an extent some of this is already here. Among the next items that AGE-WELL is examining are issues around service delivery, practice and policy. What may surprise you is that the majority of new technologies are not strictly medical devices as you might typically think. For example, sensors in furniture or clothing are health monitor devices.

Taking that leap from lab to end user consumer experience, an example of service delivery models shared by Dr. Mihailidis at the end of the webinar included one that stood out as testimony that some businesses actually understand not only the intersection of technology and aging, but that there is growing consumer activity in a diverse longevity economy.

Best Buy Assured Living (USA) with their take, “Make aging in place easier with the help of smart technology.” Even their Geek Squad will visit your home.

One parting word from Dr. Mihailidis at the close of the webinar, (which I’ve heard him say  a number of times before), with respect to technology and aging: “being incremental in our field is no longer acceptable.”

For more on the vision and activity at AGE-WELL read The Future of Technology and Aging Research in Canada posted on their website. Register for the next webinar June 11, 2019 Building an Innovation Hub: A Case Study

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