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I See What You Mean: “Vision”ary Elder Tech


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reverse mortgage newsGenomics. Virtual symptom trackers. Socially assistive robots. With the average human lifespan now twice what it was just over a century ago, and the elder population exploding, it makes sense that health care disrupting companies would be taking aim at the forefront of disease treatment and personalized patient care. But what do seniors and the aging care industry really need from digital health providers?

Technology needs to ask, “What problem are we trying to solve?” says Dr. Bruce Chernoff, CEO of the Scan Foundation, a charitable organization devoted to transforming elder care in ways that preserve dignity and encourage independence.

“People come up to me all the time with 1.0 technology solutions in a 2.0 problem environment. Slapping an app on Meals on Wheels is not a 2.0 solution. Figuring out the different reasons why someone is hungry in the first place, and designing technology tools around that — like how to get them in touch with transportation, how to get them in touch with their community, what sort of support they need at home — those are 2.0 solutions.” 

Don’t Turn a Blind Eye to Vision Health 

While a futuristic body scanner might supplant a primary care provider for some healthy seniors, lower-tech yet crucial health care needs may be being overlooked. Such as eyesight.

As we’ve discussed before, seniors outlive their ability to drive safely by an average 7 to 10 years, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). That’s a long time to be at risk on the road, both for a senior’s own health and safety and that of everyone else. At least some of the rise in risk is likely due to diminished vision, which, as with all other aspects of aging, occurs gradually and thus flies under most people’s radar. 

Elder night driving is particularly dangerous, because the retina of an 80-year-old receives a fraction of the light of a 20-year-old. Contrast sensitivity also declines. Thus, driving at night is equivalent to driving with sunglasses on. Factor in slower reaction time and potential distractions, and you have a recipe for road disaster.

See for Yourself

Because Americans 50 and older evince “an alarming lack of concern” for preventive eye care, according to the CDC — and because a number of states do not require even a cursory vision screening to renew a driver’s license — it behooves perceptive HECM professionals to mention this subject to family members of senior clients, prospects, and friends, if their older loved ones still drive. Granted, preventive eye exams are not covered by Medicare or most private insurance, but healthy eyes are as precious an investment in the future as a reverse mortgage.

“What’s sadder than working your whole life, getting ready to retire and developing something like macular degeneration, where you lose your central vision?” asks Peter J. McDonnell, M.D., director of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins.

By 2050, the number of Americans who are blind or visually impaired is expected to double, to more than eight million. Encourage your HECM clients and friends to get their eyes examined. It might be a good idea to make an appointment for yourself, too. Because no AI can substitute for seeing the world through your own eyes.

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  1. I have a 98 year old elderly relative who gave up driving, but continues to own her car. She has a younger woman who comes to her home several days a week to help her and drives her to her various appointments using my relatives car. She discussed this with her insurance agent who was able to reduce her premiums by almost 50%. Other friends pick her up, and take her to social engagements and church. She feels she has retained her independence with this arrangement and keeps herself and the rest of us safe.

    • Hi Dick,

      This is an excellent solution. I also had a dear elder friend who had never driven (or owned) a car, and had no problem getting around thanks to her numerous young friends and relatives.

      Beyond safety behind the wheel, however, the larger issue for seniors is the potential loss of vision from cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other eye diseases. This is why seeing an eye doctor is so important as we age.

      Thanks as always for being a devoted reader with premium advice and a deep love for older adults!

  2. Very good reminder

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