Bridging Generations: How Tech Takes Care of Seniors Now

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Canada has reached a census milestone: for the first time in history, seniors outnumber the nation’s children. Even more startling: within three years, this will be true worldwide. It’s already old news in Japan, where people 65+ plus comprise a fourth of the population and are on track to reach 40 percent, due to the longest global life expectancy, and birth dearth.

But far from bemoaning the silver tsunami, Japan is innovating in response, from comprehensive long-term care insurance to robotics. As this recent Reverse Focus video explains, combining LTC insurance with a HELOC can make a great deal of sense. Caregiving will become a real, possibly urgent need if we live long enough, and we will need the money to pay for it.

However, given the shortage of human caregivers where they are most needed, technology can help bridge the gap in myriad creative ways. From animatronic pets to compassionate robots, startups are stepping up to support the rising tide of older adults — especially those who are lonely.

11_elliqForecast: Cloudy and Clear 

Developed in Belgium and now available stateside, Cubigo is a cloud-based, interactive platform that helps elders living at home remain independent and socially connected.

Cubigo connects seniors, caregivers, family and businesses in an easy-to-use, modular interface that allows each user to choose among a broad set of functions. A senior can make video calls, order meals or transportation, track and share medical data, create medication reminders, and much more — all in one place. All someone needs is a digital device (laptop, tablet, smartphone) and an Internet connection. It’s a simple, secure, self-directed way for an elder who needs minimal assistance to manage at home without a caregiver.

Driven to Serve Seniors

Once a senior has Cubigo, they’ll need a transportation service to order — and there is one “made to order” for older adults: GoGoGrandparent. GoGoGrandparent monitors and customizes on-demand transportation such as Uber for older audiences and their families.

In addition to custom pick ups and automatic scheduling for recurring rides (e.g., medical appointments), GoGoGrandparent provides by-the-minute text updates to designated family members so they know precisely where Mom or Grandma is en route. Service is available throughout the US and Canada — a potential client can check location availability by plugging their zip code into the site’s search page — and GoGo adds a $.19/minute concierge fee to the Uber fare.

Bot Can They Play Bridge?

Robots already play a valued role in our lives for automated housekeeping tasks. But they’re light-years away from demonstrating sentience, like Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation — right?

Perhaps not. The legions of aging adults also means a steep rise in dementia, and a care robot can be an unobtrusive companion that also reminds a senior to drink enough water, take medication on time, and eat three meals a day. In the UK, the Chiron Project is developing a set of “modular robotic systems” designed for home care with dignity — not quite a Data-like android, but still a bot that “gets it”.

And while Data often despaired of his ability to master human emotion, the ElliQ is being designed to do just that: provide emotional support to seniors who want to age in place. After choosing to apply for a reverse mortgage, this desktop bot could be the most valuable later life decision an elder makes. The active aging companion keeps elders actively engaged. And yes, ElliQ can play bridge!

The Perfect Pet: No Feeding, No Clean-up

Several years ago we featured virtual “pet companion” GeriJoy, a remote caregiving service that provides seniors who have mild dementia with an adorable animal avatar who will engage with the elder on demand, via tablet or laptop.

The caregivers providing companionship and oversight via GeriJoy are highly trained, compassionate, and available to monitor an older loved one 24/7. Unlike actual pets, they speak English, and can alert the emergency contact person in the event of a change in behavior or a fall.

But sometimes, only the real deal will do. Joy For All Companion Pets has this handled, with animatronic pets that deliver tactile and auditory stimulation to seniors with dementia.

Joy For All dispenses with leash and litter box; their pets simply dispense love. These animatronic animals provide comfort, a calming influence, and happiness, often evoking memories of beloved living pets from the past. They’re amazingly lifelike, especially the cat, which purrs and meows just like an actual feline — but won’t jump off a senior’s lap (and probably doesn’t shed, either).

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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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What the Hack Is Going On? Digital Protection for Older Adults

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Ideas for Safer Senior Tech

couple-techI’ve written about how my formerly “Luddite” dad (his term) learned to use a computer at 89, becoming adept enough to hire a plumber based on Yelp reviews and purchase a new bathroom mirror from Amazon. But while he’s become digitally savvy, and is wise to scams, such as the IRS “back taxes” phone call, he fell for the kind of fake email that can trip us up at any age: a message purporting to be from his Internet provider, indicating a problem with his account and asking for his password to reset it.

He sent them his password, and a nightmare ensued — not in terms of financial loss, fortunately, but in getting him to agree to switch his email to a different provider — and inform everyone he emails with not to use his old address, still active on his iPhone. It took a lot of explaining until he fully grasped the digital damage scammers could wreak on everyone with whom he communicated.

Getting the Digital Knack 

Digital safety joins the ranks of areas in which seniors need to be vigilant about protecting their assets. So far, we’ve covered financial fraud, identity theft, property protection and safe travel tips.

Now GroovyTek is making technology both easier and safer for seniors, by providing in-home training sessions “anchored in respect and patience,” with vetted, bonded trainers who are experienced in working with older tech novices. Co-founder Matt Munro describes the company as “like personal trainers for fitness, applied to technology”. Each hour-long training session is aimed towards helping an older adult become stronger (i.e., more familiar and comfortable) using their smartphone, tablet or computer. At this time GroovyTek operates in-person only in Colorado and Arizona, so they provided a wealth of tech protection guidance in a recent webinar.

You may wish to print and distribute these tips to your reverse mortgage clients and prospects that use digital devices. Or email it to them, and follow up to see if you can answer any questions — about technology, or HECMs.

7 Steps to Foil Hackers

  • Use strong passwords. Strings such as 12345, the word “password,” or QWERTY (the top 6 letters on a keyboard) can be accessed almost instantly by hackers, as can your birthday or your children’s birthdays. However, Pa&&word! will take a year to crack. And a sentence, such as, “I have 2 kids” is virtually impossible to crack, because there are too many permutations. (NOTE: These two examples should NOT be used as passwords!)
  • Don’t share your passwords. And DO NOT write them down on post-it notes or in a notebook — that defeats the purpose.
  • Be mindful of what you post on social media. First, set your privacy settings high. Second, don’t over-share. Don’t broadcast exactly where you’re going to be at a certain time, or when you go on vacation. It seems obvious, but this is an invitation to burglars and identity thieves. And never share your Social Security number, bank accounts, birthdays, home address or phone numbers on social media or any other public forums.
  • Use a secure network. Don’t do banking or share other sensitive information on public access WiFi, such as a library or coffee shop Internet connection. Hackers can easily grab your information from an open network (i.e., one that is not password-protected) without ever touching your computer or your phone!
  • Don’t open suspicious emails. The subject line might read, “Dear Sir” or “We have been unable to verify your PayPal account.” Even if the email purports to be from your bank or from Google, be wary. Why would your bank or email provider be sending you an unsolicited email? Why would they ask you to confirm your account information? They already have it. If you do open an email that appears to be from a person or business you know, check the Sender’s address, and DO NOT click on any links within the message, or divulge any personal information. Your real email provider, bank, Internet service, etc. will not ask you for personal information via email. This is just like someone calling on the phone to tell you you’ve won a sweepstakes, and asking for your bank account information to deposit the check. It’s a scam. Think of it this way: If you wouldn’t open the door to a stranger, don’t “open the door” through a click.
  • Don’t click on pop-ups, even if they say you need to (e.g., “Your computer is slow. Click here to clean it now.”). You may unleash a virus or otherwise create a problem that will require a tech expert to fix.
  • Protect your identity. It’s too easy for people to steal it and pretend to be you. Do not use your full name, date of birth, home address, or any other personal data as your email address, or in passwords. On social sites, do not list your home address.

If you do get hacked, call your credit card companies ASAP, change all your passwords, and file a police report to “time-stamp” when you reported the incident to financial institutions, which protects you in the event someone attempts to utilize your accounts.

With these basic Internet security steps in place, seniors (and everyone else) can enjoy staying active and connected in the digital age.
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Becoming Bionic

PRC Title settlement reverse mortgages reverse mortgage newsLong before “android” referred to a mobile operating system, it described an AI on the TV series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In one episode, the android, Commander Data, created a child. The results were amusing, because, while the young android may have been an artificial life form, she possessed the learning curve of a human infant when it came to understanding behavior — or how to eat.

Viewers accepted the premise that one android could create another since Data’s “positronic” brain was no match for a puny human one. And this was taking place in the 24th century.

While it’s true that Data evolved considerably during the show’s seven-year run, eventually even acquiring a sense of humor, at heart (or whatever mechanical substitute was embedded in its place), Data was still a highly developed AI.

But for humans, the moment has arrived: it’s now possible for people to become bionic — which is especially good news for seniors.

No Skeletons in the Closet

One company innovating for people who’ve had strokes or spinal cord injuries is Ekso Bionics, a global pioneer in the field of robotic exoskeletons. These products unlock human strength and potential, amplifying mobility and endurance. In 2016, Ekso Bionics received the first FDA clearance exoskeleton for use with stroke and spinal cord injury levels to C7.

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Ekso Bionics exoskeleton

Watch this incredible 3-minute video, in which an Ekso Bionics patient says, “I was walking before, but nothing like this.”

Of course, it always helps to go straight to the source, or in this case, to have the source come to you: a 92-year-old former Army occupational therapist who became an industrial designer by default. When Barbara Beskind couldn’t reach foods in the very back of her refrigerator, she installed a lazy Susan on the inside shelf. Because she has macular degeneration, Beskind also attached small tactile “bumps” to certain buttons on her phone to make it easier to answer and make calls.

Clearly, Beskind embodies the ingenuity to adapt to her evolving needs. And now, she’s helping gerontologists hack the trials of aging.

Then there is the new breed of medical device companies, which go a step beyond walkers and shower chairs. While a senior’s exoskeleton is being constructed (or if they only need mild assistance at this time), Vive Health offers everything from lumbar support cushions to safety alarms, arthritis compression gloves to balance discs, and much more.

Emotional resilience

And perhaps “bionic” applies to marriage longevity as well, especially in retirement. One couple recently celebrated their 77-year union. The pair of centenarians “have their own sense of humor, which we enjoy,” says their eldest son, himself a longtime senior at 76. One of the couple’s eighteen grandchildren offers this insight: “They care for each other from the bottom of their hearts. They live and breathe each other, so I think that has kept them going. They are very caring, loving and giving.”

We may have to wait a few more years for androids of Data’s caliber to become commonplace. But bionic seniors of every stripe are possible now. So if someone who looks part Borg contacts your office for a reverse mortgage, you’ll be prepared.

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Meet The Wizards of Sales Engine


A sneak peek inside our development studio

229950We seldom get the chance to see the people who build the technology we use each day. Such is the case with Sales Engine. This week we meet Blair and Julian. Not included in this episode is our Chief Technology Officer Mark Lockett, Caleb and Abraham. Today we recognize and thank our dedicated, talented and innovative developers.

Are You an Addict?


Are you an addict? That is do you have a digital addiction?tech-addict

*Due to our new scripting approach we do not have a transcript of this episode. We will be providing transcripts once we secure a video to text dialog converter. Thank you for your understanding.

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App-solutely Easy: Visionary Elder Tech

New Technology Making Senior’s Lives Easier

As we explored last year in Caring for the Caregivers, technology can make aging easier on both sides of the care equation. Here are some exciting new ways technology is fueling a positive aging experience:

  1. Doc-in-a-Box. The days of house calls have vanished along with corded landline phones, but technology is returning doctor visits to the home — via Skype and similar videoconference service providers. Just as seniors have embraced technology in droves, video visits will replace (or at least supplement) in-person office visits, with their typical long waits.reverse mortgage news
  2. Share and share alike. Complementing video doctor visits is an exponential rise in online medical records sharing. While privacy and information pirating are also growing concerns, an inappropriate medical record release isn’t likely to prove fatal, whereas lack of access to vital information in an emergency could mean the difference between life and death.
  3. Alfred, the Robo-butler. A tech-savvy reverse mortgage client might visit her doctor online, order groceries from the local market via their website, and Facebook regularly with grandkids. But wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like a trusted butler to handle all of a senior’s household needs, including setting appointments, or reminding them when to buy more milk? A real-life Alfred (like a personal assistant you never see) will handle all the particulars in the background of someone’s life — if they live in New York City or Boston. For everyone else, a virtual version, Hello Alfred, functions as an on-demand one-stop service portal. Because, as today’s seniors are proving by their behavior, rocking out means a concert, not a porch chair.
  4. Lights, camera, action: No matter how healthy an older person may be, certain faculties tend to decline with age — particularly hearing and vision. Fortunately, merchants everywhere are recognizing that if a senior can read what’s on offer, they’ll be that much more likely to buy. LED lights have begun showing up in unexpected places, such as on restaurant menus. Fashion designer Ralph Lauren, who at 75 understands this demographic, has gone one better: designing a tote bag with LED lights on the inside, to help a mature woman find the pen to sign her credit card receipt.
  5. Can you smell that? One company has developed an “electronic nose” based on nanotechnology that will interface with any smartphone. Creator Samuel M. Khamis explains how, with just a whiff, the e-nose will be able to provide information about a person’s metabolic state and the number of calories being burned, in real time. This data can help people lose weight — or warn users well in advance of a potential asthma attack. As his company refines the technology, it will be useful for many additional health care applications based around breath analysis.

What’s certain is that the number of elder apps will continue to flourish, helping seniors to track illnesses, along with medications and potential side effects. My Recovery, designed by a surgeon, helps patients prepare for their operation, understand what to expect during and after the hospital stay, and even guides them through rehabilitation exercises. The Flowy app uses games to help people manage panic attacks — and a pilot study has already demonstrated a significant decline in symptoms.

So while tomorrow’s tech-savvy seniors may have to contend with a bit less personal privacy than in the past, the flip side is the promise of greater independence in the home, for longer — possibly even to the end of their lives.

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