August 14, 2018

Leveraging Technology to Improve the Inevitable Experience of Aging

Hanna Phelan

How do novel technologies such as robotics, telemedicine and vehicle interfaces extend the safety and independence of older adults? What is the optimal design of everyday tools and places to facilitate a user-friendly, engaging experience across a person’s lifespan? “Technology is the new assisted living,” says Lisa Cini, author of BOOM: The Baby Boomers Guide to Leveraging Technology, So That You Can Preserve Your Independent Lifestyle & Thrive.

80 percent of older adults today live in their own homes, with one-third of those being 65 years old and over, and more than 46 percent of those 75 and older living alone. To this population, technology is more than just convenient – it can provide a huge boost to both their quality of life as well as their safety. HealthXL members and organisations are delivering groundbreaking work to empower caregivers and senior citizens through technology.

Mindful Design Delivering Better User Experiences

Project Catalyst, a collaboration among MedStar Health, AARP, Pfizer and United Healthcare, has released Design on Aging guides to help entrepreneurs create products and services specifically focused on addressing older adults’ needs and preferences. The booklets highlight four “mindset profiles” that represent the motivations of people aged 50 and over, including those at high risk of isolation. Each guide also provides practical design exercises to help innovators generate solutions that align with these consumers’ motivations and meet their requirements. Similarly, research institutions like the MIT AgeLab and the Oregon Center for Aging & Technology are challenging technology developers and entrepreneurs to develop solutions and products that will transform the landscape of senior care.

On the other side of the globe, more than 33 million seniors make up about 25 percent of Japan’s population, projected to grow to 40 percent over the next 40 years. Today, nearly 180,000 people in Japan between the ages of 15 and 29 provide care for a family member. Japan Post Group, a postal and logistics business boasting a nationwide infrastructure and the ability to cover the “last mile” to virtually every citizen of Japan, has partnered with IBM Watson Health on an initiative aimed at improving the quality of life for millions of the country’s senior citizens. Japan Post delivered Apple iPads with IBM-developed apps (grocery shopping, job matching, medication reminders, dietary advice, etc.) and analytics to connect seniors with vital services, healthcare resources, their community and their family members. The apps and services also feature Japanese natural language analysis and tracking to guide seniors and make the experience more intuitive for users.

Earlier this month at HealthXL’s Global Gathering in London, Scottish architect David Burgher of Aitken Turnbull Architects, presented his work with researchers from the Dementia Centre in Australia and Glasgow-based CGI company, Wireframe Immersive, to develop the Virtual Reality Empathy Platform (VR-EP), a tool to help improve the design of care facilities, hospitals and more. Composed of a laptop, VR headset, controller and camera all operating on bespoke software, the VR-EP kit allows whoever is wearing the headset to virtually experience some of the perceptive impairments associated with dementia and old age, such as hallucinations in dark settings and general sight loss. The idea is that if designers can visualize how a space might look and work for those patients, then they can better consider elements like lighting and layout to develop a safer and more independent living environment.

Engagement Improving Health and Quality of Life

In the U.S. under the Independence at Home Demonstration, the CMS Innovation Center worked with medical practices to test the effectiveness of delivering comprehensive primary care services at home, and if doing so improves care for Medicare beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions. Additionally, the demonstration rewarded health care providers that delivered high quality care while also reducing costs (evaluated by a set of quality parameters). Participating hospitals included HealthXL members Medical House Call Program at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Cleveland Clinic Home Care Services: Medical Care at Home Program and Northwell Health House Calls, a few of whom have received incentive payments for gold star performance.

Empowering senior citizens to age gracefully seems to be the mantra for projects that have paved the way for retired professionals to take charge of their lives and continue to be connected to society. In 2015, AARP partnered with Uber through its Life Reimagined program to create job opportunities for seniors as drivers and fill available positions – a win-win for both sides. Today, many retirees drive between 20 and 30 hours a week and are considered to be ideal drivers since they typically have their own cars and fewer reported collisions.

The broadening of the types of solutions and services becoming available to seniors reflects the commitment in not only medicine or healthcare, but also in individual communities to improve the well-being of an aging population.

IBM Watson Health will soon be announcing their upcoming event to discuss technology solutions that have the potential to help create a better aging experience. Reach out to the HealthXL team at if you are interested in learning more about the event.

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