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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Raw, Unpasteurized, And Ready to Roll

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How Elder Living is Evolving Part 1

Older people aren’t milk or horses, but we tend to treat them that way: “pasteurizing” elders by removing their essence as they grow old, putting them “out to pasture” like horses, sheep, and other farm animals.

But today, more than ever before, elders are raw, “unpasteurized,” and ready to roll (and rock ‘n’ roll!).

Aging Alchemy

What’s the key to staying unpasteurized and active in “the field”, rather than the pasture? Where we choose to place our focus, says preventive medicine physician Roger Landry.

The author of Live Long, Die Short says there is an alchemy of aging, where we can spin our “human capital” into societal gold. Seniors are the only growing global natural resource, agrees Mark Freedman of Encore.org, and we cannot waste them — personally, and as a society.

By 2050, an estimated one in five Americans will be over 65. A landmark ten-year study by the MacArthur Foundation revealed that 70 percent of physical aging and approximately 50 percent of mental aging is determined by the lifestyle choices we make every day — which allows a huge margin for change. Yet too many of us (except, of course, for HECM professionals) focus on anti-aging rather than positive aging, says geriatrician Bill Thomas.

Elderhood Rising: The Dawn of a New World Age

An author, entrepreneur, musician, teacher, farmer and physician whose wide-ranging work explores the terrain of human aging, Thomas founded The Green House®, a new standard in long-term care that reinvents the nursing home. Thomas has been traveling the country with his “Age of Disruption Tour,” a nonfiction theater performance where people engage with the stage to shift perception about age! This TED talk is a taste of his work: embracing elderhood as a stage beyond adulthood, rather than becoming “developmentally disabled” about growing older.

Like Thomas, Dr. Jonathan Collie is committed to changing the narrative of aging, from one of dependence and decline to exploration and optimism. A passionate social entrepreneur, Collie created The Age of No Retirement and just launched In Common, an intergenerational research and storytelling exchange platform. “Sharing experiences and ideas is the only way we can innovate together and bridge understanding,” he says.

Yeager-ing Through Life

Landry understands this philosophy well.

An Air Force flight surgeon for more than 22 years, he met world-famous test pilot Chuck Yeager when he (Landry) was just 30 years old. Yeager gave Landry a profound lesson in aging paradigms by declaring he would break the sound barrier on the 50th anniversary of when he did it the first time — at age 73.

Landry says, “Most of us should be “Yeager-ing through life,” which anyone considering a reverse mortgage can take to heart as they contemplate the years to come. This human capital needs to be recognized, appreciated and used, Landry, Collie, and Thomas agree — not by pasteurizing older adults, but through encouraging elders to continue to contribute and grow , physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Masterpiece for Successful Living

Toward this end, Landry leads Masterpiece Living (MPL), which partners with more than 80 organizations to maximize senior potential. MPL combines a cultural approach with measurable outcomes for successful aging, based on the belief that more is possible as we age.

MPL introduced the groundbreaking Center for Successful Aging Certification (CSA) in order to distinguish the best successful aging destinations in the country. Currently, sixteen locations hold the designation, which Landry describes as “a fundamental change in how we look at living in later life.” Each Center for Successful Aging acknowledges, facilitates, and measures what happens in its community, so it becomes a resource for policy change and outreach for those who are aging in place.

Euphoria is Just Around the Corner 

Perhaps the best indication of how deeply a complete cultural reorientation is needed comes from elder response to Gen X and Millennial innovation, such as Starts at 60, Australia and New Zealand’s largest digital media platform for those 60 plus. Known for “driving voracious social conversations between ‘over sixties’ online seven days a week, 365 days a year,” it’s exceeded even founder Rebecca Wilson’s wildest expectations.

That’s not surprising, considering how Wilson perceives elderhood. Bill Thomas would adore her. This Boomer daughter delineates the Three Stages of Retirement as:

  • Pre-Euphoria: Planning for retirement. Peer-to-peer conversations crucial in every stage.
  • Euphoria: Being in retirement — no kids, no job, freedom! Time to enjoy health and wealth, travel. (Her 70-year-old dad is learning to waterski.)
  • Post-Euphoria: Start to put down roots again. Get involved in local community.

If most Millennials and those who follow are as aging-enlightened as Wilson, we can look forward to a sea change in elder service consciousness!