Do you think you don’t have a silo problem? Me too, until I attended Agetech a few days ago.

I am writing this after two days at AgeTech West, a great event focused on technology and seniors.   I also found it to be an interesting look at how deep and narrow our silos are, and how difficult it is to bust these silos . . .even when we are trying to.  Here is what I came away with:

Google Glass

 Thad Starner, who is the Google Glass guy spoke during lunch on Friday.  At first . . .  I was thinking “This is really cool.”  As his presentation progressed the “really cool” morphed into intense frustration.  There is no doubt that Google Glass is cool and seems to hold great promise for people with physical disabilities (and the rest of us) yet in all the videos clips he showed and stories he told, there was not a single person over even age 40 or 45.  So during the question and answer period I asked about Google glass and seniors.  He said he was not doing any work with seniors.

After the presentation was over I asked if he could point me to someone in or out of Google who is doing work with Google Glass and seniors.  Came up with a zero again.  He suggested the Google Glass Explorers community.  I found it and signed up then did a search for seniors and elders.  I found one reference to a guy who tried them on his 96 year grandmother.

So I find myself wondering about having a guy come to an aging technology conference who seems to not even have any interest in getting his product in the hands of seniors.   I find myself wondering how a company with the size and breathe of Google can ignore our rapidly aging population and the dollars they represent.

Talk about a silo!

It’s all about people, but is it? 

There was a lot of talk about how the healthcare system specifically and the senior care community more generally needs to be more focused on the whole person as opposed to seeing seniors as primarily a disease, condition or physical limitation that needs to be fixed.  It sounded really good, but both in the presentations themselves and conversations afterward, it was clear that the in reality the whole person always took a back seat to solving a specific real or perceived problem.

Where Were the Leaders?

 I struggled with how to write this without insulting anyone and so I apologize in advance, but the attendees mostly consisted technology people, academics and industry gadflies (yeah that is me).  Don’t get me wrong, these people are really important to the senior care world and there were some real movers and shakers.  But I found missing, operations people and the seniors who would be the actual beneficiaries of all this technology.

For Profit v. Not-For-Profit 

Not only were there few operations people at the conference every single provider I interacted with was from a not-for-profit organization.  I love the not-for-profit organizations but the truth is the for-profit providers are a huge part of senior care ecosystem.

It’s All About The Technology 

When the rubber hits the road AgeTech was mostly about technology and which technologies will become commercial successes and which ones won’t.  .  . which means what matters most is the economic equation and not a quality of life for seniors equation.  Most telling is that when looking at the technology companies that were exhibiting, even the emerging ones, it would be hard to argue that any of them was offering something revolutionary that could radically improve the seniors lives.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think the profit motive is noble and has in fact given us most of the great things that we have and use every day.  I saw some companies whose products and services are worth a good look.  Products and services I would love to have as partners at Senior Housing Forum.

The Silo Problem

Mostly though what I came away with was how difficult it is for all of us to break free of our silos even just a little bit.  Somehow when it comes to  technology we need to be sure that the technology is our slave and we are not slaves to the technology, though I will admit that I am worse than most with it comes to my tablet, laptop and smart phone.

Perhaps what we really need is a pitch for pilots not to a group of technology titans and senior service providers but rather to groups of seniors with the innovators making their pitch, telling their stories to the seniors.

Note: In fairness, much of what is behind the pitch for pilots is getting these emerging ideas in front of seniors to gage their reaction.

Finally, AgeTech West took a big leap forward this year and I expect it to grow into one of the must attend, must exhibit events.  I would highly recommend that you put in on your next year’s must attend event.

Steve Moran

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