Aging, Independence, and Technology

Last night I was at dinner with an old family friend who has recently become the executor of a friend's estate.  Her friend is only in her 60s, but dementia has set in rapidly.  In the middle of our dinner conversations, my mom's Tile app sent her a notification.  It was an inappropriate time, and we weren't looking for her keys, but it started the conversation of its usefulness in the short amount of time we've had it even though my mom's mental health is sound.  

Our family friend was intrigued and requested we send her information on Tile.  It hadn't really occurred to me how useful this product will be for the 60+ population.   Products like Tile can help keep some seniors independent for longer, especially those who are living on their own.  There are a few benefits that immediately come to mind:

1.  Finding commonly misplaced items.  Whether it's just a little bit of forgetfulness, or more serious memory loss, it allows the person to independently find their lost item.  In the past, this was one item that couldn't be controlled when preparing one's home or affairs for independence in old age.  Tile saw this as an opportunity to help people of all ages, though, this is an ideal gift for family members who are getting older and can work a smart phone.  

2.  Empowering family members and friends to help.  Tile also allows friends and family to set up accounts to help a loved one find their missing keys, wallet, or cell phone.  While it's ideal that the loved one can find their missing item on their own, the reality sometimes that person needs help.  These type of products make it less of a hassle for loved ones to assist.

3.  Locating a lost and vulnerable family member.  This scenario is more for vulnerable adults with dementia.  While the loved one may not remember to bring their keys, phone, or wallet that has a tracking device on it, there is always the possibility they will have one of these items.  You can see via desktop or the app the geographic location the item was last spotted.  I subscribe to Notify NYC alerts, and almost weekly I see alerts about missing vulnerable adults or elderly residents that have been missing for days.  Increasing the probability you will be able to find the loved one will hopefully help find them sooner to remove them from danger.

While technology changes rapidly, which can be frustrating and confusing for anyone, between products like Tile and the internet of things/the connected home, there is a big opportunity to help a large generation stay safely independent as long as possible.  There are a lot of general market products out there that should seriously consider marketing towards the aging population instead of just early adopters and young professionals.  Amazon Echo or Google Home could be great for those who lose some mobility to manage some of their home electronics.  Home camera systems such as Nest cam could be good for helping reduce senior abuse from care takers if they are monitored by a trusted family member or third party friend.  Frankly,  LifeLock could receive a boost if they had a product that was helping monitor an aging parent's financial activities.  I've read on NPR how sometimes caretakers or greedy family members take advantage of elderly persons via threats or taking advantage of a compromised mental state.  If a trusted person received notifications when a new credit card is taken out in their name, or suspiciously large purchases are made, or there is a sudden change in spending patterns, financial abuse could be stopped before the victim's entire retirement is emptied.  If nothing else, surely someone can create a few elderly focused in-home workouts on Daily Burn or on a fitness app to help seniors stay mobile for their own health.  Some people have been sedentary their whole lives and just need a gentle start and not abs of steel.  

Technology can do a lot of good, and I hope I am able to leverage it when I'm 90 to remain independent.  As much as it's hard to imagine being in any other mental or physical state than I am now, the reality is, there is no way for me to predict what my life will be like at that age.  Like with many things in life, the better you plan in advance, the more likely there is going to be a positive outcome.  As the Baby Boomer generation gets closer to old age, we need to address the problems that face the elderly now before they end up costing everyone more down the line to address them.