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September 21, 2018
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Thanks to technology, aging is now about living better and longer

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
June 29, 2018
Navigating the aging journey

People are living longer—and healthier—than their predecessors. Largely because of advancements in nutrition, public health, medicine and sanitation during the last century. Today, however, due to innovation within the technology sector, we’re transforming the aging process into a more vibrant period of life. Today aging can be about living better as much as it is about living longer.

Because of the advent of smartphones and constant connectedness - a new peer-to-peer, on-demand economy has emerged. Utilizing the simple swipe or tap of an app - information and services are available at our fingertips. Due to the fact that it is all based on the internet, there’s a low barrier to entry:

Even though smartphones are associated with younger generations, 46 percent of older Baby Boomers (between age 60 and 69) and 59 percent of younger boomers (between ages 51-59) are smartphone users.

Fuller, longer lives

This new economy of connections is what will enable people to live fuller lives as they age. It touches five important aspects of living:

Technology-driven transportation will help you stay mobile

Cars increasingly offer automated features. We now have parking assistance, collision prevention and lane-departure warnings. These features extend the driving capabilities for aging drivers. Yet once driving is no longer an option - ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are a solution by providing on-demand transportation through free smartphone apps.

These companies also provide flexible employment as clients age; Uber says some of their most popular drivers are retirees. Google and major car manufacturers are in a race to process the developing and testing of driverless cars that offer complete independence to those otherwise unable to drive.

Easier to earn income longer

According to the AARP, four out of 10 Baby Boomers plan to work in some capacity during retirement. Technology is already contributing to this. First, it promotes greater flexibility in an existing position by allowing remote work from the comfort of home. Second, many elders are finding second careers in retirement. 

Clients can use online education forums, such as EdX and Coursera. These sites help broaden or update existing skill-sets. Some can learn entirely new skills and industries. In today’s on-demand economy people are also offering non-traditional employment.

This includes services like the Airbnb, which allows homeowners to rent out rooms. This provides both income and social interaction for the homeowner.

Better able to maintain social networks

 Loneliness is a major health risk for seniors. Personal interaction decreases significantly in retirement. Especially after the loss of a spouse. Technology reduces the distances between families and friends using internet-based apps such as Skype and Facetime.  My own mother has rekindled friendships on Facebook after attending her 50th high school reunion in NYC so now she is connected with friends that otherwise were long gone. In fact, my 80-year-old father- in- law stays connected with his family and childhood friends in Greece with a weekly Skype session. The world isn’t such a big place anymore.

The cost considerations of long distance conversations have dropped with the addition of face-to-face contact. In today’s retirement communities, “Connected Living” programs provide the equipment and a medium to give seniors access to a digital social life. There are even senior-specific dating websites like OurTime and Stitch, which facilitate building new romantic relationships as clients age.

 Connected homes and apps promote aging in place

Our homes play an integral part in our family lives. They are filled with memories and personal effects. Many Americans say they want to age in place, but the simple requirements of maintenance can become difficult or unsafe to manage with age. Today, apps such as Handy and TaskRabbit pre-screen handymen or contractors for home improvement projects.    

For the day-to-day needs, there are even apps like Instacart to make grocery delivery simple. Washio delivers laundry and dry-cleaning to a client’s door. Do elders need a butler to help clean up the home? Try Hello Alfred. Today one doesn’t even need to lift a finger because voice-activated controllers like the Amazon Echo can access these apps. Don’t forget the robot vacuum, Roomba, that cleans floors autonomously. These are all jobs that are taken for granted in younger years. These are challenging to manage once the aging process has become significant to remaining independent while aging at home.

Technology can monitor clients’ health at home

Healthcare costs are the largest budget items for retirees. As they manage chronic conditions, healthcare often plays a deciding role about whether or not it’s possible to remain at home rather than in a facility or institution. Soon elders will know how to proactively manage their health with the help of devices and apps.

Think smart toilets that can measure weight and vitals - to smart clothing that can track activity levels, or carpets that can detect a fall. App developers are working to integrate technology into everyday objects that can monitor a person’s health and detect changes or problems immediately.

When outside help is required, Home Instead Senior Care and new apps being developed daily it seems, provide peace of mind because trained professionals are screened and qualified to help an aging patient on the other side in rapid response times. Concerned about dementia? Try an in-home surveillance system to see what the elder’s safety patterns are.

Aging Is what we make of it

Retirement for today’s aging generations will look nothing like what has come before it. With technological advancements and innovations, most of which are already available and accessible - many aging Americans have the opportunity to live independently in their own homes for much longer, if not until death.

There is a learning curve connected to this new economy. A recent Pew study shows that one-third of Americans have never even heard of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

While usage is high in younger generations, only 4 percent of Americans aged 65 or older had ever used these services. It’s unclear whether low usage is due to lack of awareness - or simply a hesitation within older age brackets due to payment and privacy concerns. This is the point that represents both a challenge and an opportunity for growth.

These changes might raise important questions about how people prepare to live in retirement, or plan for longevity from a financial standpoint. Financial implications might exist for continuing to live at home. If so - engaging an in home care company can make the difference between aging in place - or being forced into an assisted living facility. And when it comes to driving - is there a monetary trade off to relinquishing the car and relying on ride-hailing services like Uber? 

There might not be one definitive answer just yet - but it’s important to consider this conversation with your elders, so that aging in place can be a planned event that brings even more comfort and peace than we have been prepared for up till now.

 Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.