High Tech AND High Touch

Two of the most undeniable trends in our world today are the unprecedented aging demographics and the ever-increasing pace of technology innovation.

In the past 100 years, we have added 30 years to average life expectancy and the 85+ age group is the fastest growing segment of the population. By 2050, the population of centenarians is projected to reach nearly 6 million. It’s a whole new – and increasingly grey - world. At the same time, we are seeing shortages across the board in aging-related care professions including geriatricians, certified nurse assistants and home care aides.

In today’s connected world, technology is streamlining businesses processes, enabling new business models and changing the way people interact with each other. We have seen technology transform industries and the demographic imperative ahead of us is forcing individuals, families, communities and countries to think in new ways about new models and opportunities at the intersection of technology and aging. In order to serve the needs of our growing older adult population, it is evident that we need to figure out how do more with less.

So what do we need?

  • First and foremost, we need to empower people to live the lives they want and maximize control, dignity and joy across the lifespan.
  • We need to stretch shrinking budgets and leverage scarce human resources.
  • We need to drive down costs while improving quality of life and quality of care.
  • We need to develop new models and tools to support and prolong independence in the least restrictive, most cost effective setting possible.
  • We need to find new ways for older adults to remain meaningfully engaged and connected.

Dr. Bill Thomas*, noted geriatrician and elder advocate, says that the true plagues of elderhood - those which ultimately kill the human spirit -- are loneliness, helplessness and boredom. I couldn’t agree more. I also passionately believe that technology is a powerful tool that can help mitigate against these plagues and help people feel more connected, more empowered and more meaningfully engaged as they age.

As the co-founder of Aging2.0, a global innovation network and accelerator program, and Founding Partner of Generator Ventures, a early-stage investment fund focused on aging and senior care, I have the pleasure of meeting passionate innovators from all around the world who are working to reimagine the aging experience.

The innovations that make me most excited are the ones that combine high-tech and high-touch. It’s not about using technology to depersonalize the aging experience. It’s not about “big brother” monitoring. It’s not about devaluing the importance emotional connection. Quite the contrary. It’s about thoughtful application of technology to help make our families, our homes, our communities and our services smarter, more efficient, more personalized and more responsive. It’s about enabling people to get what they need, when they need it, how and where they want it. It’s about using technology to connect us to the people and organizations that are most important to us, no matter the distance.

Too often the technology we see designed for older adults is fear-driven and all too focused on managing decline and avoiding the negatives. One of the barriers to widespread technology adoption among older adults has been usability. Too often products and services that could positively impact the lives of older adults instead create frustration because of poor design and technical over-complexity.

We need products that older adults actually WANT and that are a DELIGHT to interact with. Is that too much to ask?

When I first met Jibo’s “parents,” the talented team lead by MITs Cynthia Breazeal, I knew they were onto something very special. Jibo is truly the next generation of high-tech and high-touch. I believe Jibo has the unique and much needed ability to mitigate against later life loneliness, helplessness and boredom and instead foster social connectedness, empowerment and meaningful engagement in new and exciting ways.

KATY FIKE, Ph.D. is a founding partner of Generator Ventures, an early-stage venture fund focused on aging and long-term care and co-founder of Aging2.0, a global innovation network and startup accelerator program. Katy is a PhD gerontologist, strategy consultant, former investment banker, systems engineer and blogger. She is a sought after speaker on topics related to innovation and aging and has been featured in national media including PBS NewsHour, Bloomberg TV, Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, TechCrunch and Huffington Post. Katy is on the Board of Directors of the American Society on Aging and the Family Caregiver Alliance. Katy earned her doctorate in gerontology from the USC Davis School of Gerontology and her undergraduate degree in Systems Engineering from University of Virginia.

* Bill Thomas’s book – Learning from Hannah: Secrets for a Life Worth Living – is the book that inspired Katy’s atypical career change from investment banking to gerontology.