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Successful Aging: 3 tech innovations to help older adults

Dear readers,

Technology has become one of the hottest areas of innovation in aging. I recently had the opportunity to attend the conference “Aging into the Future: Transforming Lives through Technology and Innovation” presented by St. Barnabas Senior Services. Held at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, it attracted about 500 participants.

Here are just a few of the featured tech innovations.

Gita: This robotic cargo vehicle was developed by Piaggio, a company best known for creating the Vespa scooter. Gita is a robotic vehicle that can follow a person and is designed to carry your stuff, leaving you hands free. It is described by the company as a “smart, nimble, cargo vehicle designed and engineered with the same attention to safety, braking, balancing, vehicle dynamics and performance that you would expect of a motorcycle or car.” It can carry up to 44 pounds and move from a slow walking pace to a fast sprint. Gita operates outdoors, on sidewalks, ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant ramps and detecting and avoiding obstacles as it goes. Although this innovation can be used for all ages, it’s particularly useful for older adults who cannot carry groceries to their home or the picnic items to the beach. Note Gita is an Italian word meaning a ride or excursion. It soon will be on the market.

Audiojack: This was presented as an audio-based movie with a few hitches: it has no words, no music and no video. It consists of hundreds of sounds layered together so the listener can create a story from what he or she hears. The audio has been used for those with dementia and memory loss and for individuals going through chemotherapy. Its theme is “take back your imagination.” At the conference, attendees were asked to close their eyes and listen to the sounds that were played. When the selection was over we discussed what we felt or observed. Every story or recollection was different. Some were observers; others were in the center of the activity. I heard sounds of rushing water and saw myself standing in front of Yosemite Falls. Such an experience fully engages participants with no wrong answers and no language or cultural barriers. It is available as a mobile app on Google and Apple devices. Users pay a monthly fee of $2.99 or with an annual subscription of $14.99. New audio files are added each month.

GoGoGrandparent: Co-founder Justin Boogaard identifies himself as a professional grandson. He lived with his grandmother, Grandma Betty, for three years – in Torrance – with no car. His grandmother had glaucoma in both eyes, an expiring driver’s license and was frustrated with new services that required technology. She observed Justin using Uber and asked for the phone number. Justin replied, “There is no phone number; you need a smart phone” which his grandmother did not have or want. With some trickery, Justin gave his grandmother a phone number and asked her to call that number; the “service” would connect her to Uber. This continued for a while. Grandma Betty told her friends who told their friends. Justin said he and his partner were getting 100 calls a day, many in the middle of the night from older adults who wanted a ride and who did not have a smart phone. As the demand became unmanageable, it occurred to him there was a need. And so GoGoGrandparent was born as an on-demand ride sharing service for older adults with no smartphone. One calls 855-464-6872 and the person on the line arranges a ride using either Uber or Lyft. The vehicles typically are a little larger and accommodate canes and walkers. Drivers are patient, particularly if a person needs a bit more time to get in and out of the vehicle. GoGoGrandparent is available in 4,000 cities, in all states in the U.S. and all provinces in Canada. Boogaard indicated he was “doing what all grandchildren are doing for older relatives: Translating technology.” He notes, “It was Grandma Betty’s idea.”

These are just three examples of how new technology is helping older adults stay independent and engaged. If these innovations are not currently relevant to our lives, at least one would be relevant in our near future.

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