When it comes to shining the spotlight on a question that most every American asks themselves at one time or another – “what will happen to me when I get older?” – it doesn’t get better than a White House Conference and a presidential focus.
That’s what happened last Monday when President Obama hosted the White House Conference on Aging – a once-every-ten-years meeting that brought together hundreds of aging experts to “look ahead,” as the Conference put it, “to the issues that will help shape the landscape for older Americans for the next decade.”
I was lucky enough to be an attendee in the room, soaking up the ideas and creative thinking of speakers, from the President and his Secretaries of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Labor, to the experiences of healthcare providers, financial experts, caregivers, innovators, mayors and even Frasier’s Dr. Niles Crane, actor David Hyde Pierce, now a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Additionally, the Conference brought together an amazing collection of committed aging well activists who discussed the challenges of caregiving, the need to plan for financial security at every age, the power of intergenerational connections on healthy aging and finally – my turf – technology’s role in the future of aging.
There were a lot of takeaways from this decennial meeting, but there were three key insights that especially resonated with me as the head of Philips Home Monitoring business, where we’re already helping many older adults age independently with technology like Lifeline’s GoSafe medical alert service and working towards population health management with solutions like CareSage’s predictive analytic solutions to detect the need for intervention while living well in the home.
So, while the Conference finalizes its comprehensive report, due later this year, I’d like to share these insights with you.
Insight #1: Caregivers are passionate about their work but desperate for help.
I don’t think we can underestimate the depth of the caregiving challenge. By 2030, one in four Americans will be at least 60 years old and, as they age, most will live with at least one chronic disease. Yet, while the older adult population is exploding, the number of professional and informal caregivers is actually declining. Caregivers provide an average of 66 hours a month of support while holding down their own job and caring for the demands of their families.
This growing shortage has serious societal implications. Today, almost a third of family caregivers are already sacrificing wages or benefits by caring for an older relative, and employers lose more than $33 billion a year due to employee caregiver absenteeism.
One caregiver at the Conference told us that one of her biggest pain points was wading through an inefficient, ineffective and exasperating bureaucratic system to get the benefits and resources her care receiver needed. Technology can be a game changer for caregivers, whether it’s cutting red tape, providing easy access to needed information, or connecting older adults with their doctor in new, efficient and effective ways.
But, as Barbara Beskind, a 91-year-old designer with IDEO put it, we must “design with, not for” older adults and their caregivers. The Conference highlighted the kind of by-design partnerships that are emerging to help bring scientists, engineers and others together with older adults and their caregivers to find aging well solutions.
In fact, the University of Washington’s School of Nursing and the HEALTH-E (Home-based Environmental Assisted Living Technologies for Healthy Elders) initiative are introducing an Aging and Technology Laboratory to more quickly develop new hardware and software solutions that support aging well.
And Philips recently announced its collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business to create a unique new cooperative research and development initiative that will examine, create and share solutions for aging well. We call it the “AgingWell Hub.”
This initial “living lab”, to be located in Cambridge, Mass., is driven by a shared commitment to open innovation working with a wide range of collaborators across the aging well ecosystem, including healthcare systems, caregivers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, academics and, of course, older adults.
Insight #2: Aging well requires a societal mindset change: people are living longer and can contribute longer with a supportive and enabled society and community.
The Conference was filled with examples of older adults who are living well as active members of society and their local communities. The President pointed to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Diana Nyad, who set a world record at 63 by swimming from Cuba to Florida and is about to embark on a walk across America to promote the need for physical activities. Labor Secretary Perez shared the story of Lillian Carter, former President Jimmy Carter’s mother, who became a Peace Corps volunteer in India at the age of 68.
Anita Roth, of the home-sharing company Airbnb, said that more than a million of their customers were over the age of 60 and, even more interestingly, 25 percent of their hosts were over the age of 50 and rated highest for service. This is an example of the positive role that business can play in enabling older adults to remain socially engaged and supplement their income at the same time.
What these and other active, older adults want is the ability to continue to contribute to society. Today, more and more businesses like Airbnb and Uber see older adults as an opportunity market for new technology and are playing an important role in keeping them connected to their communities. As one older adult said, “Uber gave me my wheels back.” Industry and technology can play a key role by providing simple, easy to find and use access to these services.
Likewise, local government can also play a crucial role in keeping older adults connected and active by creating more aging-friendly environments. Whether it’s delivered meals, arts programs, physical activities, or even small loan programs for repairs to help keep them in their homes, the goal for local government, as the mayor of Iowa City, Iowa, put it, is to “make our community welcoming to older adults”.
Insight #3: In the aging well ecosystem, it’s about a systemized care team, not just a single player.
The Conference reinforced what many of us working in the “gerontechnology” field know – the solution to healthy aging takes more than one caregiver or healthcare provider. It takes a holistic, seamless, individualized and coordinated patient care experience that stretches across the health continuum from the hospital to home, from the caregiver to the doctor’s office and points in between.
The Philips and Banner Health Intensive Ambulatory Care (IAC) pilot program, part of the overall telehealth program at Banner, focuses on the most complex and highest cost patients, and is proving the value and effectiveness of a team approach to aging well. This “high tech/high touch” pilot manages patients with multiple chronic conditions and has reduced the costs of care by 27 percent and hospitalizations by 45 percent.
Technology itself can make a tremendous difference. The Conference put a well-deserved focus on the need for more and better technology support, as well as education for older adults, their caregivers and healthcare providers.
Joseph Coughlin, director of MIT’s AgeLab, told the Conference, “The next generation care force will need training to make use of innovation to improve the quality and efficiency of caring for others.”
And help is on the way. Secretary of HHS Sylvia Burwell gave the welcome news that the federal government has set aside almost $36 million for geriatric education and care force training.
I left Washington even more convinced that an open innovation, technology-based, systems approach can deliver the aging well products, solutions and services all of us will eventually need, leverage and enjoy.