I’m sure we all know that 10,000 Americans turn 65 day every day. For many, this “event” passes with little fanfare, with little notice other than the fact that they are now eligible for Medicare or that they need to start thinking about when to start taking Social Security. However, whether it happens when they turn 65, 70, 75 or 80, everyone has to ask, “What do I want the rest of my life to look like? How do I want to live?”
We’ve become accustomed to the idea of inevitable decline, of degradation of life on a sliding scale, quality of life trickling away as the years pass. The technology we present to seniors says as much- flip phones with big buttons, emergency alert systems for falling and chronic disease management tools. While useful, they all say, “You’re old, you’re different”. They say, “You’re a patient, not a person.”
We’ve spent a lot of time with seniors over the past decade, learning about what makes them tick and what they want. We know that seniors want new horizons and new experiences, that they want to stay independent and healthy, that they want their voice to be heard as they navigate the challenges of aging. Unfortunately, the technology interfaces that are so intuitive and accessible for younger people, namely computers, tablets and smartphones, aren’t intuitive for all seniors and are increasingly frustrating to use if dexterity and sight are even modestly impaired. Blaming seniors for lack of use or “poor compliance” fails to recognize this reality.
We shouldn’t chalk this up as a lost cause. In fact, we’ve seen the future in the shape of voice activated computing. Working with 50 residents of a local continuing care retirement community (CCRC), we’ve seen seniors excited about the prospect of crossing the digital divide and living better every day. Consider:
- We showed a couple how to do their daily check-ins on Better Every Day using an Amazon Echo Dot. We also helped them learn how to navigate the Alexa world, teaching them some basic skills and techniques to leverage the technology. Within seconds, they had mastered the basics and their house was full of the sounds of Fats Waller. They were all smiles.
- One of the independent living residents is eager to have a way to message her family because her arthritis makes typing and texting difficult. She’s also excited that the daily interaction will serve as a reminder to take her medicines each day.
- Another resident has her weekly schedule written out on a paper each week. She’s setting up reminders in Alexa each week so that she doesn’t have to keep a paper calendar. And the voice interface is easy and intuitive for her to use.
This is about better living. While we gather some useful information about health, safety and well-being each day, what we are really doing is helping people live better lives. Furthermore, we are helping seniors access many things that they’ve admired from afar. They’ve seen the ease with which their grandchildren access music and the simplicity with which their children stay in touch. They want this as well; they just want it in a way that fits their lives better and leverages skills and resources they already use.
The greatest wonder has been the disappointment shared by residents when deployment is delayed or they weren’t able to participate. Rather than seeing Alexa as an annoyance or as an intrusion, they are eager to see how this might enhance their lives. In the words of one person, “Christmas came early this year.”
To learn more about how Pharos’ Better Every Day program might be used to enhance the lives of seniors at home or in CCRC setting, contact Jim Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.