Increasing US longevity, changes in senior health and housing should drive bundled tech solutionsBy Laurie Orlov
Elder care, housing and aging – the present is not like the past. We are entering the patchwork quilt era of senior housing that reflects lengthening life expectancy and a stretched economy: the steady-state occupancy in assisted living is around 2.1 million (in for-profit and non-profit homes), there will be (1000) fewer nursing homes than in the last decade. So what else is out there besides caring for an aging parent in your guest room? Quite a bit, actually. There are national networks and web sites today that describe NORCs (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities); there are Virtual Villages, there is the Maine Approach (building a grass-roots volunteer network shored up with video monitoring), and now there is a national Co-housing Network. Meanwhile, over in China, the land of supposed to be taking care of aging parents in the home, check out all the senior group homes forming.
The future use of technology will demand transcendence of single problem solution products. Consider the tech bundling in the backyard MedCottage ($2000-$2500/month to lease the cottage), service provided or contracted by the primary homeowner: “The home is designed with video monitoring at floor level so that a caregiver can check for falls while still allowing the senior resident to have privacy. There is a pressurized ventilation system that can keep airborne pathogens in or keep outdoor air out. It includes a lift, attached to a built-in track in the ceiling that can move a patient from bed to bathroom so the caregiver can avoid heavy lifting. The bathroom is handicapped accessible and safe. Other features include floor and wall lighting to help prevent falls and a system to set up important reminders such as when it is time to take medication.”
A bundle of tech – hold the cottage, add the service. We are still in the pre-solution period of technology for seniors – here a product, there a product. But the collection of tech in the MedCottage offers a clue about what a solution is. Another example is of service provided by a family doctor and a grass-roots volunteer network: Dr. Allan Teel’s Maine Approach deployed through Full CircleAmerica offers a $400 package of services that includes: “daily video calls with a videophone, community activity calendar, weekly planner, web cams with a pan/tilt functions plus a stationary camera, motion detector/door/temp sensor, Guardian 911 emergency-response system, and video monitoring service.” The basic package includes use of technology combined with senior volunteer companions, that is seniors who can monitor other seniors. This “Elder to Elder, or E2E” as Dr. Teel calls it, adds paid services (and an additional income source for seniors) if a volunteer is unavailable.
Longevity expectations are muted by income, health and averages. An average life expectancy of 78 or 79 blurs the distinctions among economic groups — many of whom have not had access to decent diet or healthcare. Today’s reality for many who have been relatively healthy is this: if you make it to age 65, on average you will live another 20 years. Within the next 20 years, 21 million Americans will be over the age of 85. Baby boomers have plenty of time to plan and select a housing approach for themselves. Today’s 85-year-olds need the benefits of a tech solution bundle along the lines of the MedCottage or Maine Approach to keep them connected and safe, regardless of where their relatives live. And just as I believe that 50% of boomers will move at some point, because their parents are living longer. Boomers need solutions to help with their elder care — assisted living maybe unaffordable for most and nursing homes may be too unappealing. The MedCottage sounds convenient, if somewhat lacking in peer aged companionship; the Maine Approach requires grass roots organizing. But the solution bundling of technology they reflect is an approach that should be incorporated into Virtual Villages, NORCs, and Co-housing planning.