Aging and Technology

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I spent a terrifically enjoyable week recently - visiting family and, in particular, hanging out with my father-in-law. He is intelligent, wise, and kind, the sort of person who has handled some of life’s most difficult challenges with such grace - I admire him enormously. Spending time with someone who is in their late 80’s and willing to share the stories of their life and their insights is a history lesson, an epic poem, a huge dose of wisdom, a mirthful story told with a twinkle, and so much more. A true gift for those of us fortunate enough to hear.

As with many people who are middle-aged, the topic of elderly parents - whether living at home or in assisted living, healthy or infirmed, with a positive outlook or struggling with loneliness or other issues- hits very close to home for me. Both because of the imminent needs and decisions that often must be made, but also because it is clear that we are one generation removed from being in that position. Looking at decisions today, through the lens of how they will impact life in these later years, is necessary. Thinking about how to arm ourselves to be ready to deal with the inevitable changes and challenges has become easier as a result of the huge advances in technology.

Technology is dramatically changing how aging is occurring today. Being able to use video chat to speak with loved ones far away is one of the most obvious and recurring uses of technology that reduces levels of isolation for those limited by mobility issues. Being able to summon an Uber with a few clicks increases the ability to get out when driving is no longer possible. Online banking and being able to order groceries and take-out food are all things that we now take for granted but for older people can materially improve quality of life. Fortunately, there are many more advancements in the works that are either already available, or will be soon. I am actually really excited to be aging at this time in history, knowing that my connectivity to the world will likely be greatly enhanced through the use of these new technologies:

Aging in place - as highlighted in this article, the focus on helping seniors stay in their home longer and live independently has been going on for some time. I was fortunate to be able to see some of the “healthtech” advances when Pefin was honored as a finalist in the AARP Innovation @50+ Event last year. From having family across the globe be able to detect if medication had been taken, to having sensors determining whether a stubbed toe warranted a doctor's visit for a diabetic patient, inexpensive tools are now available to allow aging and possibly infirmed people, live at home for longer than ever before.

It’s the Design, Stupid! While at that AARP Event, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the founders of IDEO. The world renowned design shop has turned it’s formidable focus to the issues of aging to great result. In short, what I heard was that if a person can’t get in and out of a car because of age related challenges, the problem shouldn’t be viewed as a problem with the person, it should be viewed as a design problem with the car. Likewise the housing stock around the globe that was largely built for young families, there is rethinking required to redesign how houses work to accommodate the needs of people in their 80’s, 90’s, 100’s and possibly beyond! IDEO, wisely, brought in a 90 Year Old designer to help think through solutions - which also goes to show that the notion that mid-60’s is the time to retire, is also out the window.

Share the Wealth- of Knowledge: One of the most exciting developments facilitated by technology, is the ability to leverage the vast experience, knowledge and wisdom of the elderly. I came across this article about elderly people teaching international students how to speak English, via video chat. It is a great win/win story where the teachers have great purpose - and expand their social circle - and the students learn a language, and probably a lot more about life, history and the world. More of these programs are popping up- I recently saw another article about senior housing being combined with a University day care center and training ground for teachers and healthcare providers. So many win/wins!

Caring for the Caregiver: Caregivers, whether for the elderly or the ailing, have probably the hardest job in the world. There are many ways that technology can help with making caregiving easier, but one that I came across recently struck me as novel. A company named Marvee was started by an inspiring woman, Heidi Culbertson , who wanted to help her own mother who was mentally sound but had lost her vision. She developed Marvee which provides an intelligent interface for your Alexa to be a companion to the elderly and facilitate external communications in ways not traditionally possible for people with vision, dexterity or other limitations. Additionally, Marvee never tires of answering the same question over and over again. This is especially useful for people suffering from dementia who may ask their caregiver the same question repeatedly, exhausting them to the point that human emotions can negatively interfere.

I am grateful that the people who are skilled in technology, design and business, are dedicating themselves to solutions which will make all of our lives better- for us and our families. I look forward to seeing more technological advances and how it helps to create even more strides in the improvements of our quality of life. At Pefin , our focus is on making the highest quality financial planning and advice available to everyone, regardless of age or past mistakes, so that people can live their best life today, and for years to come!

Jay Gopalakrishnan