Successful Aging: Technology is looking at ways to improve the process of getting older
I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference entitled “Aging into the Future” sponsored by the St. Barnabas Senior Services (SBSS). It was designed to showcase the convergence between emerging technology and healthy aging. Indeed, it did. Over 800 people attended this event at the Los Angeles convention center, which featured exceptional speakers and over 50 booths exhibiting the newest in technology that benefit older adults.
Speakers included Ashton Applewhite, author and advocate confronting ageism in technology and everywhere else, and Justin Erlich of Voyage, an autonomous vehicle company who discussed the promise of self-driving cars.
Here are just a few exhibit highlights shaping the aging experience:
Calling 211: This low-tech, 24-hour-a-day free assistance provides information about Los Angeles county services, such as senior services, assistance with Medi-Cal and food stamps, physical and mental health services and more. It includes IRMA, the Intelligent Referral Matching Assistant that helps caregivers connect to services. Phone number 211 has a database of 6,400 agencies and 45,000 services.
Megilla.com: Megilla creates legacy videos from a laptop or desktop. You create your legacy by choosing from over 500 questions such as “How have your dreams and goals changed throughout your life? “If you had one wish for your family and future family, what would it be? “The email videos are recorded and sent to your family or stored in a private account. For more information, see Megilla.com. (Note: In conversational English, the Hebrew word “megillah” means a long-involved story with details.)
Hands-free shoes: Quikiks has developed shoes that can be put on without using your hands. The back of the shoe opens wide, you slip your foot into the shoe and as you step into the shoe it automatically fastens. When you strike the sole of the shoe on the floor, it pops open and you can slide out foot out of the shoe. See Quikiks.com.
Robotic companion animal: TomBOT is a robotic companion animal for older adults with dementia who no longer are able to care for a live animal companion. Inspired by its founder Thomas E. Stevens, whose mother was diagnosed with dementia, the robot is designed to emulate a live dog in appearance and behaviors. Stevens came to this invention with 35 years in the computer industry and in consultation with Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. This robotic yellow lab with 16 motors and multiple sensors in its neck, responds to voice commands including its name and can differentiate light from darkness and bark. It nestles its head in your hand and actually cuddles. TomBot encourages emotional attachment, which several studies suggest can reduce dementia-related behaviors and reduce the need for drugs. This robot-computer actually looks and feels like a dog.
Getting dressed with ease: Founder Brenda Wilton wore a corrective back brace for years that limited her mobility, causing physical and emotional pain associated with dressing. Years later, she was a caregiver and experienced the struggle and discomfort of a family member getting dressed. She found existing clothing for those with some limitations as “old people” clothes that were “bulky, uncomfortable and often ill-fitting.” As a result, she was motivated to develop attractive clothes that conveyed ease, dignity and independence. The tops she designed have zippers down the sleeves and trousers have zippers along the outside of the legs. The ease of putting on and taking off these items was demonstrated at the conference. Go to authoredappare.com.
There was more: The Voyage self-driving vehicle; Caption Call telephones that slow down speech; Carenote, which provides companionship by telephone; and Flextogether, offering yoga, tai chi and pain management using a buddy system that connects instructor with participants and friends. AARP featured their Smart Driving program, interactive opportunities for attendees to share their opinions on the future of transportation as well as their report on automated vehicles. Some of the products and services are readily available; others are in the “getting ready to launch” stage.
The day was one of innovation, optimism and entrepreneurship with a commitment and drive to use technology in ways that enhance the functioning, independence and dignity of all older adults and potentially help to make all our communities age-friendly community.