By Lola Rain
Face it, everything in life is iterative, especially advancements in technology. Think about it. From floppy disks to hard drives to cloud storage, advancements take time to develop, and then plateau. What’s beyond 5G or 4K? How much bigger and clearer can a TV get? Will Gen Z care to consume media on anything other than their tiny, blue screens?
Every year the advancements in cars are microscopic. A little more horsepower, quieter engines, faster rechargeable batteries — rarely improved mileage, even though we know engineers are capable of designing efficient models. And innovation rarely lowers the cost, because if it did, the investors would gladly take the higher profits.
As we’ve seen recently, no innovation has happened in air travel. An amalgam of patched together systems depended upon by airline employees, FAA, and travelers can fail and cause chaos for hundreds of thousands of people. Airplanes are ripe for advancements in reduction of pollution and radiation — things we don’t want to think of when we are on our way to Disneyland or Hawaii.
While innovation is not dependent on technology, technology has been the magic bean visionaries are looking to sow. When scientists attempt to create a literal magic pill for cancer or dementia, look at how slow and impossible that task seems. It’s iterative.
Visionaries who aim to create change and cross the chasm because they see the path to better outcomes are dreamers. So many conditions are required to create the solution, position it for purchase, and convince users to adopt it. Think of all the solutions we’ve purchased that have failed for a myriad of reasons: too complex, not easy to use, or it quickly became obsolete because something faster, cheaper, and smarter came along.
I can think of several things I adopted in the last two years that didn’t meet expectations. They promised to change senior living from an operations standpoint or from a resident engagement perspective. These tools have potential, but at no point did they become an overnight success. These technologies will take months, if not years, of hard work to really make an impact.
The Future of Aging Technology
In 50 years from now, if Joseph Coughlin writes a sequel to The Longevity Economy, what will we find? A technology plateau in 2023?
Have visionaries already dreamed up everything that can improve senior living and the aging experience? More technologies are available than decision makers are willing and able to buy. We can’t force providers to adopt new products and processes, even if they know they need them.
The most important thing innovators approaching senior living providers need to remember: We are NOT easy money. Don’t think that because we serve a large population of seniors, that a portion of revenue from housing and services is sitting there for the taking. Expect months of relationship building to get to know a provider and build trust. We are a discerning bunch of executives, only willing to spend money when it seems clear we’ve exhausted all other choices (or we see something really cool we think we can’t live without).
Senior living is not a direct access to a mother lode of older adults sitting there waiting to use new products. And our staff are not easily persuaded to change processes, no matter the efficacy a vendor can prove. However, it is a good testing ground because seniors enjoy being part of building a solution to common challenges that are important to them. They want to be seen and heard.
Age-Tech Targets Senior Care Providers As Customers
Reflecting on my conversations at CES 2023 with the AARP AgeTech Collaborative startups, the future is becoming clearer.
Virtual Health Care
We’ve gone and done it. Virtual doctor appointments finally became the norm due to the pandemic. Providers learned to bill for telemedicine (thank you, CMS). There is no going back now. But where does it go from here, and how will it evolve? Will virtual caregiving be the next big advancement? When I think about my own mother, she needs a real pair of hands guiding her through her day. No virtual care, no matter how effective, can replace the care provided by a human. However, augmenting care with virtual assistants is where it’s at. I predict we will see more virtual care adoption in 2023.
We’ve seen some success with VR for recreation, but it’s dependent on staff time and programming. Immersive companies try so hard to use evidence to prove the efficacy of their product; however, without staff dedication, usage is low. Even when a VR company gets a two-year contract, that doesn’t ensure adoption on the ground level. If the product isn’t being used, it’s not creating the outcomes it was designed for. Game over. Try again.
Enterprise Operating Systems
Here is the biggest need I see in senior living: easy-to-use operating systems that tie in EHR, billing, AP, budgeting, and more. But before these types of companies get too excited, the opportunity is in upgrades of systems. An organization willing to completely change their enterprise tech is crazy and risks losing staff. There has to be a HUGE reward on the other side if they are going to make that kind of investment in time, money, and adoption.
Mobility and Fall Prevention
The walker was modified for comfort and usability, but has usage increased? No. People are stubborn. They don’t want to believe they need it until they really, really need it. If devices have built-in tech to detect and predict falls, excellent, but we don’t have the budgets to invest in expensive systems. And if you expect to bill insurance for it, make the process quick and simple. We need less complications.
Dream of an inexpensive, sleek walker that becomes ubiquitous like strollers. Thirty years ago, strollers were all the same height, built for moms. Today, 6-foot-tall dads can proudly roll their offspring down the street. Let’s get with it, wise ones.
The staff taking care of residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease need training and support more than anything. They are so loyal to their residents that they set aside their own personal needs. This is a group of people who do not need another toy. They need more hands.
Let’s see how the NIH will distribute their Small Business Innovation Research funds to pilot more technologies for senior care. Alzheimer’s intervention is one of their main priorities.
Home and Personal Safety
Sensors, sensors, sensors. It’s been nearly 15 years now that the first sensors have emerged on the scene of senior living. No new company can claim to be the first in this category. Compare home safety to child safety. Outlets are still in the wrong position. An 80-year-old has to bend over to plug in a vacuum or lamp (fall risk!). But a toddler can walk right up to an outlet and shove their finger in. Come on, people, tackle the obvious.
Mergers and acquisitions are going to make a huge difference when it comes to the success of tech companies tackling resident engagement. There are too many options and too much overlap on the market today. IN2L and LifeLoop coming together is the right strategy for long-term success.
What’s new in life enrichment? Find out at Evolve 2023 July 11, 13, 18, and 20. Foresight’s third annual virtual conference designed for life enrichment directors, executive directors, and decision-makers.
Putting Innovation in Perspective
Overall, CES 2023 was an aging-technology disappointment. Small tech companies will be crushed by smart home advancements. Amazon is monopolizing all things needed to live a full life regardless of age. Emerging innovators and visionaries don’t even have a chance. Or do they?
Good news: People who are passionate for improving the lives of older adults won’t stop coming up with good ideas.
I encourage all innovators to vet their ideas as quickly as possible. Find your minimum viable product. Test it. Think beyond technology. Think about the one thing you can do to improve lives and really make a difference. If you think you’ve got a magic bean and can’t figure out why no one is buying it, open your eyes and ask yourself: is my idea a hobby or a game changer? Am I willing to struggle for years to become the top 1% of companies that succeed? Regardless, you will have an electrifying ride along the journey. All founders do.
Encouraging Employees of Senior Living
You live it every day. You know the difference between a great day and a terrible day. The innovation we are looking for is in your hands. Tell someone your ideas for making your job better and your residents’ lives fuller. We will listen.
About Lola Rain
Lola has 25 years of experience in housing, health care, and enterprise technology. She coaches startups and mentors future senior living leaders. Her expertise is in strategy and communications, with an emphasis on education and behavior change for healthy brains and bodies. She has worked for nonprofit providers including Eskaton and Sequoia Living, and with a variety of tech companies and startups.
Great perspective here. Technology is coming like it or not.