As the baby boomer generation grows into the later stages of life, many of us are watching our parents age. Their expectations for growing old are unique—they’d prefer to avoid nursing homes—having watched their own parents’ aging experiences. Instead, they are looking for creative solutions to retire on their own terms—and in their own homes.
As their family members, we’re trying our best to help them. It’s tempting to throw technology at the challenge of aging in place, given the ability to see potential in helping our parents through designing systems of automation. But a technological cure-all can be dangerous, too—and can quickly become as out-of-sight and out-of-mind an experience as the nursing home one.
The Future of Aging is an exploration into the inevitability of technology as a well intentioned support structure for aging. These ideas aren’t necessarily good or bad—but they sure seem likely.
There is a mass number of aging boomers, all hitting their 70s and 80s at once, and all expecting to maintain their middle class way of life, in their own homes, aging on their own terms. They’ve seen their parents age in nursing homes, and have realized, through a mix of guilt and introspection, that they want no part of a system of planned meals, short family visits, loud common areas, and apathetic nurses. Talk to a boomer about this and you’ll often hear the same resounding sentiment, “If it comes time for that, please just put me out of my misery.”
To help our parents, many of us in our 40s and 50s turn towards a familiar cure-all: technology. Have a wandering granny? No problem, here’s the GPS charm bracelet. Not sure if Grandpa is still alive? Dropcam can push alerts if it hasn’t sensed any motion in 24 hours. Mom or Dad not getting enough exercise? Swap the walker for an exoskeleton and guarantee Mom gets movement every day.
In blindly embracing technology, we may very well repeat the same mistake made by our parents—but our solution won’t be a physical island of care, it will be a digital one. Aging with technology is inevitable—it’s how we do it that will make the difference. Following are a few examples of what the Future of Aging may look like.
Find a nurse online, schedule someone to help you manage the shower, or offload daily in-home activities to a pay-per-task contractor who is also your instacart shopper. What seem like impersonal exchanges today will become commonplace tomorrow, as boomers opt to discreetly pay for on-demand shared care services instead of risking the removal of privileges, like driving, that can come with asking family members for help. Amazon, who has a wealth of shopping data, consumer trust, and predictive analytics, will be the first to enter the market. They will capitalize on their in-home delivery infrastructure that allows for shared care workers to securely enter and exit the home at will.
Boomers intend to age in place and die in their homes—not in a nursing home. Now they can. They’ll live Wall-to-Wall by bringing their home with them to New York to see the grandkids, or to Scottsdale to do some golfing. At the touch of a button, the self-contained personal dwelling pod will be autonomously un-loaded, shipped, and re-loaded at the location of choice, all without disrupting the in-home care they depend on or forcing them to abandon the personal artifacts that make home, home.
We’ve all forgotten what we were doing mid task—but as we age, these moments of forgetfulness happen with increasing frequency. In the future, machine learning in the home will allow us to remain independent a little longer. By recognizing the auditory and visual patterns of our routines, intelligent AI systems will be able to learn and direct our ‘daily loops’ once we’ve lost the ability to do so ourselves.
As we age, healthcare paperwork becomes overwhelming. Now, we can reclaim our retirement with a digital assistant—one focused exclusively on managing our Medicaid reimbursements and healthcare paperwork. With a simple command, our healthcare digital agent will collect the prerequisite information, find out who to call, submit claims, and argue the case for reimbursements on our behalf. Less time dealing with paperwork—more time for golfing!
As we age, we want to do it on our terms. Nursing homes evolved into planned community living, and planned retirement communities will evolve into a mix of digital services and products—each evolution is aimed at giving us more autonomy and control over the second half of our lives. Welcome to our digital retirement: simpler, yet simultaneously more complex.