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How Technology is Extending Life at Home For Older Adults

Our thanks to Karen Smith for this contribution to our blog

Bio: Karen Smith has been working for MePACS as the Head of Sales and Marketing for the last four years and has over 20 years experience in health, technology, digital and finance industries.

No one enjoys getting old, but unfortunately it happens to all of us eventually. More older adults are choosing to age at home, which has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The countless virus outbreaks in aged care homes have made people wary about putting their aging relatives into these facilities. In Australia, a survey that was conducted this year found that only 15% of Australians between the ages of 60 and 80 trusted the aged-care industry.

While older adults are happier living at home, this comes with its own challenges as families can be concerned about their elderly relative’s safety. In the US, 27% of people aged 60 and over live alone and more prosperous countries tend to have smaller households. Technology is able to support independent living for older adults by keeping them safe, helping them with daily tasks and staying in touch with others.

As we age we tend to go out less and it’s estimated that older adults spend 80-90% of time at home. This means that the chances of having an accident are much more likely to occur around the home which is why many older adults are starting to embrace smart technology that is helping to keep them safe.

The global population is aging

By the year 2050, one in six people will be over the age of 65 according to the United Nations. Advances in healthcare and technology are also allowing people to live longer, which will put increased strain on hospitals and aged care homes. We need home healthcare technology to meet the demands of our global aging population.  

Unfortunately, getting old comes with a higher chance of health problems. Some common conditions that happen with old age include:

–   Hearing loss

–   Cataracts

–   Diabetes

–   Dementia

–   Heart disease

–   Back and neck pain

It’s not uncommon for a person to experience many conditions at the same time. People who are overweight, have an unhealthy diet or don’t do exercise can also be more likely to develop health conditions later in life.

We now have smart technology that can monitor heart rate, temperature, blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels without even needing to see a doctor. It’s important to note that technology isn’t a replacement for seeing a healthcare professional, but rather a way of collecting and tracking personal data so you can make an appointment to see someone if something is wrong.

Devices that help older adults stay safe

While there are many devices available on the market that are helping older adults to age at home, here are a few that deal with key issues affecting people in the older age bracket.

Smart kitchen appliances

Kitchens can be a dangerous place for older people, which can be due to:

–   Forgetting to turn off a tap or switch off an appliance which could lead to water overflowing or starting a fire  

–   Falling over with a hot object due to lack of balance

–   Forgetting how to use something in the kitchen due to a medical condition

If you’re looking to make your kitchen or a family member’s kitchen safer, there are smart stoves and ovens that can automatically shut off if they detect smoke. There are some devices that can also detect motion in the kitchen, so if someone were to walk away and leave the stove unattended, it would automatically switch off.

There are also a number of other devices that can make the kitchen a safer place including smart refrigerators that monitor food consumption and can alert you when supplies get low.

Smartwatches with fall detection

While medical alerts for fall detection are nothing new, a stylish smartwatch with automatic fall detection is much less bulky. The added bonus is that the wearer has all the benefits of owning a smartwatch including telling the time, in-built GPS and fitness tracking that can motivate them to do daily exercise.

Falls are the most common injury in older adults and they can have devastating consequences. Not only can they cause hip fractures or broken bones, but they can cause a person to lose confidence in their own ability. If the person is unable to move and lives alone, help is difficult to get which is why a fall-detection smartwatch can be a life-saving device.

Medication reminders

Many older people can be on several types of medication. Forgetting to take medication or doubling up on doses can have serious consequences, which is why technology can help to alleviate this problem.

Smart speakers that include a voice-activated virtual assistant can be set-up to remind the person to take their medication. There are also smart sensors that can be placed around the home that use artificial intelligence to learn the movements of a person and can alert them if they forget to take their medication or remind them that they have already taken it.

For those that are more forgetful, there are automatic pill dispensers that can be filled up by a caregiver or a family member so that the person cannot access the pills unless they come out of the dispenser.

Data privacy concerns

Any device that collects its own data and can communicate via a network is part of the ever-growing gadgets known as the Internet of Things (IoT). When it comes to collecting health data, this raises concerns about regulation and who has access to this data.

For example, an older adult with health conditions might be happy to share their personal data with their doctor but wouldn’t want that same data being shared with a third-party.

While virtual assistants and home sensors are improving the lives of older adults wishing to live at home, there is growing concern about what companies are doing with all that data.

As our society comes to rely more and more on technology to make our lives easier, the industry needs to design tough privacy regulations to keep vulnerable adults safe.  

After decades of denial, pandemic is making Minnesota baby boomers feel their age

By Kevyn Burger Special to the Star Tribune

Baby boomers, the generation that refuses to age, might have met their match in the coronavirus.

Marilyn and Juan Galloway exchanged a look that many married-with-children couples might recognize.

Their 22-year-old daughter had just dropped an unintentional bombshell, one that left them equal parts amused and wounded.

“She said, ‘If you guys get COVID, you’ve lived your lives,’ ” said Marilyn, of White Bear Lake. “She was dead serious, like, ‘You’re elderly and at the end of the road.’ We were stunned. We’re 55 and 63. We run, golf and bike. We’re more active than our kids. At the age that my grandmother wore a housecoat, I spiked my hair and dyed it purple.”

For baby boomers, it seems that COVID-19 has done what self-denial and evidence to the contrary has been unable to do: make them feel old.

For the generation whose youthful battle cry was “Don’t trust anyone over 30” and who prided themselves on remaining relevant as the years accumulated, being lumped in with the cohort regarded as frail and vulnerable has come as a shock.

“The pandemic has been a reckoning for baby boomers,” said Scott Zimmer, a speaker and trainer for Bridgeworks, a Wayzata consulting company that advises businesses on generational dynamics.

Based on sheer size, the 76 million American boomers, now between ages 56 and 74, have been courted by marketers since their postwar arrival. They have reframed every life stage they’ve passed through and were in the process of rewriting the script for their retirement years when the coronavirus arrived and stripped away their pretensions.

“They retain a youthful spirit and don’t want to slow down like previous generations. They take on encore careers and find new activities to be passionate about,” Zimmer said. “Now they’re forced to acknowledge that they’re not invincible. Even if they’re in great shape, they can’t deny that their age puts them in greater danger if they catch the virus.”

Dings and Dents

Writer Bill Souder’s upcoming biography of novelist John Steinbeck is titled “Mad at the World.”

That could also describe the 70-year-old author’s feeling about the way his age group is characterized.

“ ‘Seniors.’ ‘Elderly.’ I don’t like those terms. ‘Your sunset years.’ The labels they attach feel like they are trying to erase you. The message is that when you get older than a certain age, you’re in this other category. You are diminished, a fossil,” he said. “I don’t belong in that club.”

Souder has preferred to define himself by his activities rather than his age.

“I ride my bike, I still wade a trout stream. Last year I got a new hunting dog to trudge through the forest and fields with me. I do the same things I did when I was 40, but a little slower,” he said. “I’m like a golf ball. I’ve got dings and dents, a little asthma, a little heart disease.”

Since the arrival of the virus, Souder’s pre-existing conditions, previously regarded as minor and manageable, have prompted him to act with caution. He’s isolating in his home in Washington County in the company of his wife, their adult son who’s quarantining at home following a furlough and Sasha the wire-haired pointing griffon.

“At a certain age you are at an elevated risk and you have to live your life differently,” he admitted. “The science is clear. I can’t spin it.”

Ageism at the Root

For many boomers, the pandemic is revealing, even cementing, some long-held negative stereotypes associated with aging.

“They are experiencing ageism with the assumption that a number — their age — is the defining marker,” said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, a national association of nonprofit providers of aging services. “They may have experienced ageism in the workplace, but not in their day-to-day lives. They’re seeing how the contributions of older adults are undervalued and underappreciated.”

Age is just a number, but how that number is perceived is subjective. As people get older, the definition of “old” changes. In a Pew Research Center study, only 21% of those between the ages of 65 and 74 said they felt old, and just 35% of those 75 and older self-identified that way.

Advances in medical science in the past half-century have created a longevity revolution that is giving Americans not only longer life spans, but more years of good health. Still, anyone north of 55 is often lumped into the same age category.

Lori Bitter believes that happens out of “ignorance or laziness.”

The president of the Business of Aging, a California consultancy that advises companies marketing to mature consumers, Bitter thinks the older demographic needs to be sliced thinner.

“There’s not enough understanding that 65 and 85 are vastly different, just as people who are 50 and those who are 65 are nowhere in the same territory. Some of the language used for this vast, diverse group is ridiculous,” she said.

“Companies and others trying to speak to the different ends of the cohort need to distinguish between them,” she said.

It’s a fine point that the pandemic does not take into account.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “the greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older,” the CDC also generalizes with the statement that “As you get older, your risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases.”

That means that in the foreseeable future, taking the threat of the virus into consideration may cause baby boomers to live more constricted lives.

“We really don’t want to get it, so we are being conservative,” said Souder. “We don’t touch our kids. We sit in the backyard. All bets are off on when that will change. But I’m not bedridden, I don’t have one foot in the grave. I’m here and a high-mileage version of myself.”

Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.

This article is originally featured in StarTribune.

Giving Gifts That Make a Difference

I get to take a look at products designed for older adults every day. This year I brought technology from two companies I have known since their start-up days into the homes of my parents.

Technology

After the passing of my step-dad, my Mom decided she wanted a medical alert device. We turned to Greatcall and Lively.  As I knew it would be, the service she has received has been exceptional. My Dad, who lives in a rural area, expressed an interest in some sort of device to stay in closer touch with us. He was especially missing all of the photos of his newest great grandson. Knowing that he is not tech savvy, we were reluctant to put an ordinary tablet in his hands. Instead we turned to GrandPad. Because of his location, the set-up proved difficult, but the service was excellent, we were communicated with about solutions, and understood the issues. I am happy to be the influencer on these purchases, and to experience the service models these companies have created.

Comfort & Joy

While I live and work in the world of technology, I’ve been working very hard this year to uncover things being created for older adults that bring joy, comfort and fun. There is plenty of investment in technology that solves for the dissonances of aging. There is not nearly enough focus (or funding) on joy. My short list of gift ideas is focused on this theme!

Give Loved1

Loved1 is subscription gift box for older adults that contains items focused on wellness and happiness. The difference is that the items are carefully curated to encourage engagement between the sender and receiver. Subscribers, usually the adult children, receive an email about the items in the box and an Engagement Guide filled with ideas to promote rich conversations and fun interactions. Subscriptions come in 12, 6 and 3 box options. This is the perfect gift for your family member living in a community to encourage family members of all ages to visit and engage around fun activities; and if you are long distance caregiver, the items in the box create conversations beyond the basic check-in calls. You can listen to my friend Paul Vogelzang’s Podcast with Loved1’s Joe Adams to learn more.

Bridges Together

Bridges Together is the go-to organization for intergenerational engagement. They offer training and tools to help individuals and communities embrace and create a truly age-integrated world. Schools, communities, and companies use the Bridges curriculum to create all types of intergenerational activities. Founder Andrea Weaver calls intergenerational engagement “an inoculation against ageism.” Become part of the age integrated movement and subscribe here. You can see the outstanding “How To Guides” that are part of your subscription. If you are looking for a fun stocking stuffer, or a way to stimulate non-political discourse over the holidays, check out the Grand Conversation Cards. This deck of cards has thought-provoking questions for people of all ages to encourage deeper conversations among multiple generations of family. These are great for the dinner table (sans devices), for workplace training, or you can play one of the games that come in the How To Guide.

 

Clothing That Comforts

Jan Erickson created Janska from a dream about a jacket. She had an older friend who had become disabled from a series of strokes. The hospital gown became her wardrobe and Jan wanted to create something to keep her warm and also restore her “personhood” during this difficult time. That jacket that Jan sketched from her dream launched a made-in-America clothing company with five collections and accessories sold nationwide. The Clothing That Comforts line is the embodiment of Jan’s philosophy that clothing does matter, and that soft, warm pieces provide dignity that can be lost when you are facing a health or mobility challenge.

I gifted my Grandmother with the Lap Wrap Shawl and the MocSocks. (I love the MocSocks too!) Imagine the joy that the cozy fabrics and beautiful colors will bring to your loved one!

 

However you celebrate the season, I hope you and your family have love, joy and fun! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing Hacking Longevity Research with California Assisted Living Association (CALA)

I am excited to be sharing insights from our latest research project, Hacking Longevity, with members of CALA on June 6th, 2018 in Sacramento. We’ll be discussing generational differences that make communication across three generations of older adults trickier, plus looking at Generation X as the new generation of family caregivers.

The theme for this year’s CALA Spring Conference and Trade Show event is “Elevate”:

el·e·vate / eləˌvāt / verb

  • raise or lift (something) up to a higher position.
    synonyms: raise, lift (up), raise up/aloft, upraise
  • raise to a more important or impressive level.
    synonyms: promote, upgrade, advance, move up, raise, prefer

We look forward to helping Senior Living professionals find new ways to elevate and shape the care and services they provide while enhancing residents’ quality of life through greater understanding.

To learn more, or to attend CALA’s Elevate Spring Conference and Trade Show, click here.

To learn more about Hacking Longevity, click here.

Excited to talk about The Business of Aging’s new research at AARP on April 12th!

The Business of Aging’s new research, Hacking Longevity, will premier at AARP’s Living 100 event in Washington D.C. on April 12th. The event will feature an “experience” of key data points of attitudes and changes displayed along a timeline at the Newseum in Washington DC.

The research is sponsored by AARP, GreatCall, Wells Fargo Advisors and Proctor & Gamble on the new Collaborata research platform.

The agenda for the AARP’s Living 100 Event can be found here.

Watch our social media – Facebook/TheBusinessofAging and Twitter – @LoriBitter and @TheBusinessofAging for live updates!

On my radar: Death Cleaning

On my radar are trend bytes – a gathering of observations – that indicate a larger trend is at work. 

I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo for a boomer-focused blog. It’s a hot trend right now. In my research I consistently hear older adults say that they have a lot of stuff. They tell me it keeps them from moving and “rightsizing” their living situation. They say it makes them depressed. Most of all they tell me their kids don’t want their stuff! After hearing about the Kondo method on television, I thought I’d check it out. I tried it in my own house (and am continuing to use it)! It is freeing to rid yourself of things you no longer wear or use.

Just this week, I was sitting in on a focus group for my latest project and heard of a twist on this idea. When asked about their passions, one woman in the group said she was really excited about “death packing.” She went on to describe a process similar to Kondo’s but is about gradually getting rid of things so that your loved ones don’t have to.

What is Death Cleaning?

The process, called Death Cleaning, is Swedish. The Swedish word is dostadning. It means slowly decluttering your life until you die; it generally begins in your fifties and is done so no one else is responsible for your leftovers! There is also a book about it by Margareta Magnusson, titled “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter.

We have a television show called Hoarders: Buried Alive and consignment shops have successfully sprung up across the nation. In some cities, there are waiting lists for self-storage units, even though there are 50,000 storage facilities in the U.S. — five times the number of Starbucks. That’s 2.3 billion square feet. The backyard shed business is a lucrative one – 25% of people with two-car garages can’t park a car in one. We use eBay, craigslist, and NextDoor to unload things.

It’s a Trend!

Richard Eisenberg wrote an excellent article on the trend for NextAvenue called, Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff. This quote is particularly startling:

“For the first time in history of the world, two generations are downsizing simultaneously,” referring to our oldest population and the boomer generation.

With the youngest of the boomer generation in their mid-50s, there are years of opportunity ahead for companies who can help people plan, organize, store, and get rid of their possessions. I wrote about this trend for MediaPost a year ago and heard from many people going through this with their parents. There are high tech and no tech solutions here, some with very little start-up cost for the solopreneur. What do you think about the issue of being “over-stuffed” and the idea of death cleaning? I would love to hear from you!

 

Lori to speak at ICAA Conference in Orlando

Lori Bitter will moderate a panel on “The intergenerational imperative” at the ICAA Conference 2017. Bitter and colleagues will dive deeper into the companies, organizations and new initiatives working toward an intergenerational future. This session will explore the latest research, look at the workplace and importance of purpose, and provide a case-study view of successful projects.

Friday, October 13, 3:15 p.m.–4:30 p.m.

To learn more about the conference or to register, visit ICAA. 

The Intergenerational Imperative: Why We’ve Never Needed Each Other More

Written for and published in ICAA Journal  by Lori K. Bitter, MS

Intergenerational. It’s the hot new buzzword in aging though it’s been around for years. It’s also steaming hot at a time when ageism is rampant and headlines report workplace warfare between Boomers and Millennials. To be sure, the unrest is real. Boomers lost jobs during the Great Recession and have struggled to earn again at the same rate. Millennials stayed in their parents’ homes, not earning enough to launch into an independent adult life. Throw family caregiving for loved ones into the mix and a clear pattern of interdependency begins to be clear.

SEISMIC SHIFTS
How did we get here? The current picture starts with increases in longevity. Since 1900 we’ve added 30 additional years of life. The United States Census Bureau estimates that the number of Americans living into their 90s will quadruple between 2010 and 2050,4 while the United Nations projects a 351% increase in the global population of adults 85+ over that same period. Unfortunately, the expectations of roles and life stages are rooted in the 1960s. Contrary to common thought, those 30 additional years aren’t simply tacked onto the end of life. Rather, they are distributed throughout the adult life stages, creating seismic shifts that our culture has yet to catch up with.

“By ‘understanding the real root of what is happening across the generational spectrum,’ we can create approaches that recognize interdependencies plus value and benefit all generations”

Young adulthood, midlife and old age are all being transformed by the addition of these years. Yet the changes continue to be written off as generational stereotypes. Understanding the real root of what is happening across the generational spectrum allows us to recognize it and work with it for the benefit of all generations

We are culturally stuck in the life stage paradigm of the last century. We followed a fairly consistent and predictable life script: 1. Go to School
2. Find a Job 3. Get Married  4. Have Children  5. Work Hard 6. Retire.

A few lucky people had some years of leisure before they died. This model has gone the way of the rotary phone, but the universal mindset has not made the change. Or, as author and gerontologist Barbara Waxman says in The Middlescence Manifesto, “We have a cultural lag. People have a lot of needless dissonance between perception and the reality of how our lives are unfolding.”

Markers of change
Life is messier. The predictable script is gone. Yet there is a discomfort with the idea of not living up to the old ideal. Consider some of these markers of change:

  • Young adults
    Taking longer to enter and finish education
    Waiting longer to marry
    Waiting longer to have children
  • “Middlescents”
    Changing career direction
    Retraining/educating
    Starting businesses
    Taking sabbaticals
  • Older adults
    Working to age 70 and beyond
    Remarrying
    Continuing education

Adulthood at every stage has seen shifts. Rather than using ageist stereotypes to put one generation down to elevate another, or feeling uncomfortable for not fitting an old-school life map, we can embrace this opportunity to create an intergenerational approach that recognizes our inherent interdependencies and values every generation for their contributions.

CHANGING PARADIGMS
Let’s examine some areas in which the shifting maps of adulthood contribute to significant intergenerational issues.

Housing
Housing is one of the industries most impacted by these life stage changes. In the US, more than 50% of Boomers have less than USD$100k saved for retirement, though many view their homes as a significant retirement asset. Most will need to sell the large family home and convert that equity to retirement income. But the demand for these homes may be very small. (This will force many Boomers to look to financial tools such as reverse mortgages.)

Millennials are not purchasing their own homes at the same rates of previous generations. They report the size of their student loans as the major issue in not being able to save for a down payment or qualify for a mortgage. With student-loan debt topping USD$1.4 trillion (and growing), research by Citizens Bank found that 60% of college graduates ages 35 and younger expect to be paying these loans into their 40s. Concern also transcends generational divides. Research conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that 2.8 million borrowers are 60 years or older, parents and grandparents of Millennial students.

The rental market
The dream of home ownership isn’t just an issue for younger generations. In 2016, home ownership in the US reached an historic low. While Millennials are part of the issue, surging Boomer interest in renting can’t be discounted.

A 2015 study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University found that families and married couples ages 45–64 accounted for roughly twice the share of renter growth as households under age 35. In urban areas with highly competitive rental markets, it is younger renters who are losing to older renters with greater ability to pay, creating increased need for affordable rental housing.

To manage the cost of living in their homes or high rents, Boomers increasingly choose to live with a roommate. Just like Millennials, Boomers also live with roommates for social reasons. Companies, like Silvernest.com, are emerging to help older adults find roommates and provide a range of services to ensure the success of the match. Some of these matches end up being from multiple generations.

Multigenerational living
Alternatively, there is a growing trend of Boomers remaining in the larger family home and housing multiple generations under the same roof. In 2014, a record 60.6 million people, or 19% of the US population, lived with multiple generations under one roof, according to Pew Research Center. For the first time, young adults have replaced elders as the second adult generation in the household.

Three-generation households—grandparents, parents and grandchildren—include more than 27 million people, while about a million people live in households with more than three generations. Another 3.2 million Americans live in grandparent/grandchild homes. Developers have begun to recognize the needs of these households and have created models to accommodate multiple generations. Companies have evolved to create accessory dwellings—nicknamed “granny garages”—to place on properties with existing homes to house family members. And nonprofits, like Fairhill Partners in Cleveland, Ohio, have developed apartments for grandparents raising grandchildren.

The rise in multigenerational living is one reason why fewer Americans live alone now than they did in 1990.

Caregiving
Increased longevity means more generations are now involved in providing care to older loved ones. In the US, the average age of family caregivers is trending younger at 49 years old. Caregiving has also become much more of a family affair. Generation X and the Millennial Generation are stepping into caregiving roles—47% of caregivers are 18–49 years of age. Part of this shift is due to their availability to provide care due to unemployment or underemployment.

The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP report that 20% of caregivers are over age 65. There are also 1.4 million (and this estimate is low) children ages 8–18 who take care of a parent, grandparent or other elder, according to the American Association of Caregiving Youth. These hidden caregivers miss school, have little normal social life, and no support network as they navigate caring for the adults in their lives.

A looming crisis?
Cultural shifts have also led to changes in family structures and stability. Divorced and remarried at “unprecedented levels” in their younger years, Boomers have largely been responsible for the doubling of divorce rates in the 50-and-older age group since 1990. Their families are also typically smaller (fewer than two children). So what will caregiver support look like in the future?

In 2010, the ratio of available caregivers to people requiring care was 7:1. This number will continue to fall, to 4:1, as America’s Boomers push over the 80-year-old threshold in 2030. Between 2030 and 2040, the 80+ population will increase 44% while the number of caregivers increases by only 10%. The ratio completely bottoms out to less than 3:1 in 2040, when the Boomers are in old, old age. (In fact, caregiver support ratios will tumble in many countries worldwide.) Additionally, the higher percentage of unmarried Boomers and Boomers without children will require new kinds of support systems not dependent on family caregivers.

Technology is emerging to address some aspects of care. There is still a growing gap, however, in the number of jobs that will be created as a result of aging, and the number of people available to fill those roles.

Aging workforce
Who will work in aging? At some point in the 1980s, vocational education began to disappear from high schools, and the expectation grew that the majority of graduates would go to college. The tide is turning. But it’s not turning fast enough to create the healthcare and technology workforce required for the aging Boomers.

Emerging models aim to address the need for this workforce, with a focus on bridging the generational divide. Connect The Ages is a social enterprise on a mission to connect 5 million students to careers in aging by 2025. The time is certainly right to bridge the potential of Millennials and Generation Z to the aging population.

“Most students aren’t aware jobs in aging even exist, let alone future-proof, interdisciplinary jobs with room for advancement,” says 28-year-old Connect The Ages Founder and AARP Innovation Fellow Amanda Cavaleri. “We want to help educators introduce careers in aging to students by first bridging generational divides. Through our grassroots campaigns, students experience the often unknown positive side of aging and have opportunities to explore this impactful, purposeful work.”

Connect The Ages has released interviews with dozens of Millennials in aging, including architects, entrepreneurs, healthcare workers, lawyers, policymakers and technologists. Complementing the interviews is a national grassroots outreach and intergenerational storytelling and mentorship campaign. Many of the Millennials who work in aging report finding the field entirely by chance. This is not a sustainable way to meet the industry’s needs. Connect the Ages wants to create an active strategy to engage more young people in the field.

THE IMPERATIVE
We are just scratching the surface of understanding the interconnectedness of the generations and the need to work together toward solving the issues ahead of us. The imperative for our organizations, and our industry, is to discover, support and create initiatives that work toward a better-connected intergenerational future that will advance the aging field with young people and benefit everyone. We’ve never needed each other more.

References

1. National Institute on Aging and World Health Organization. (2011). Global Health and Aging. Living Longer, pp. 6–8. NIH Publication no. 11-7737. Retrieved on June 25, 2017, from https://www.nia.nih.gov/research/publication/global-health-and-aging/living-longer.

2. Waxman, B. (2016). The Middlesence Manifesto: Igniting the Passion of Midlife. Kentfield, CA: The Middlescence Factor.

3. Data 360. Life Expectancy Studies, 2016. Available at http://www.data360.org.

4. He, W., & Muenchrath, M. N., US Census Bureau. (2011). American Community Survey Reports, ACS-17, 90+ in the United States: 2006–2008, p. 2. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Retrieved on June 25, 2017, from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2011/acs/acs-17.pdf.

5. Collinson, C. (2016). Perspectives on Retirement: Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. 17th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Workers. P. 70. Los Angeles, CA: Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Retrieved on June 26, 2017, from https://www.transamericacenter.org/docs/default-source/retirement-survey-of-workers/tcrs2016_sr_perspectives_on_retirement_baby_boomers_genx_millennials.pdf.

6. Federal Reserve Board. (2017, June 7). Consumer Credit – G.19. Accessed June 27, 2017, from https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/current/default.htm.

7. Citizens Financial Group, Inc. (2016, April 4). Press release: Millennial College Graduates with Student Loans Now Spending Nearly One-Fifth of Their Annual Salaries on Student Loan Repayments [Millennial Graduates in Debt study]. Retrieved on June 26, 2017, from http://investor.citizensbank.com/about-us/newsroom/latest-news/2016/2016-04-07-140336028.aspx.

8. Federal Reserve Bank of New York, The Center for Microeconomic Data. (n.d.). Data Bank. 2016 Student Loan Data Update. Number of Student Loan Borrowers by Age Group. Accessed June 28, 2017, from https://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/databank.html.

9. Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University. (2015). The State of the Nation’s Housing 2015. Retrieved on June 26, 2017, from http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/research/publications/state-nations-housing-2015.

10.Cohn, D., & Passel, J. S. (2016). FactTank News in the Numbers. A record 60.6 million Americans live in multigenerational households. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved on June 27, 2017, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/11/a-record-60-6-million-americans-live-in-multigenerational-households.

11. National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute. (2015). Caregiving in the US 2015. Retrieved on June 27, 2017, from http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/ppi/2015/caregiving-in-the-united-states-2015-report-revised.pdf.

12. American Association of Caregiving Youth. (2015). More Facts about Caregiving Youth. Accessed on June 28, 2017, from https://www.aacy.org/index.php/more-facts-about-caregiving-youth.

13. Stepler, R. (2017). FactTank News in the Numbers. Led by Baby Boomers, divorce rates climb for America’s 50+ population. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved on June 28, 2017, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/09/led-by-baby-boomers-divorce-rates-climb-for-americas-50-population.

14. Redfoot, D., Feinberg, L., & Houser, A. (2013). The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Narrowing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers. INSIGHT on the Issues, 85. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute. Retrieved on June 27, 2017, from http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/public_policy_institute/ltc/2013/baby-boom-and-the-growing-care-gap-insight-AARP-ppi-ltc.pdf.

15. Centre for Policy on Ageing. (2014). CPA Rapid Review. The care and support of older people–an international perspective. Retrieved on June 28, 2017, from http://www.cpa.org.uk/information/reviews/CPA-Rapid-Review-The-care-and-support-of-older-people-an-international-perspective.pdf.

The Intergenerational Imperative: A New Narrative

We must end the conversations pitting generation against generation. It’s ageist and supports generational stereotypes that don’t value the best that young and older people have to offer – especially to each other. It’s time for a new narrative that highlights the importance of the unprecedented shifts every generation is experiencing, one that reflects the commonalities as opposed to differences.

We’ve added more than three decades to our lives since 1900. But contrary to the way many people think about those years, they are not simply tacked onto to the end life. These extra years are an expansion of every stage of life. We see it when young people take a gap year before starting college or are waiting until later in life to leave home, marry and start their own families. Midlife is expanding, as people work longer, return to school, and create new careers. And certainly old age is longer as well, as the number of Americans living into their nineties is expected to quadruple by 2050.

Work

Daily headlines perpetuate a myth of generational angst between Boomers and Millennials in the workplace, when the reality is they have much more in common than simply coping with a stretched out life map. Younger generations believe that they alone seek purpose and meaning in their work. The Workplace Purpose indicates that more than 25% do; but that number is 39% for 55-64 year olds and rises 47% after 65.

The baby boomer generation says they’ve felt the need to compete since they started working – there were so many people entering the job market at the same time, and over a long period. Younger generations say they aren’t sure how to compete; or as one person recently told me, “When you get participation trophies for everything, you have no idea what you are good — or bad — at. It can be paralyzing.”

Debt Load

Student loan debt has topped $1.4 trillion. Research by Citizens Bank found that 60% of those under 35 will be paying off these debts far into their 40s, with the rest of the burden falling to boomer parents. Boomers are paying off loans at the risk of their own retirement savings. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York research shows that 2.8 million borrowers are over 60.

Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping by and Get Your Financial Life Together, says,”Millennials get a lot of the press when it comes to the student loan crisis and how it will affect our futures, but there are boomers who are of retirement age and still dealing with student loans, many of which were probably taken out for a millennial child. Concerns about paying off debt and being able to retire comfortably transcends generational divides.”

Homeownership — And Finding Roommates

Last year, home ownership rates fell to an historic low – partly because millennials can’t buy or don’t value homeownership in the same way as previous generations; boomers value their homes as a significant retirement asset, as 50% have less than $100,000 saved. Reverse mortgage products have become more attractive as boomers can’t sell to younger buyers.

The growing interest among boomers to rent rather than own shouldn’t be discounted in low rates of ownership. A 2015 study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard found that people 45 – 64 accounted for twice the share of rental growth as those under 35. In major cities, boomers are dominating the rental market, making it even harder for younger people to find affordable housing. People of all ages are turning to new sites like Silvernest and SpareRoom, which help connect homeowners with roommates.

Multigenerational Living

In 2014, a record 60.6 million people, or 19% of the U.S. population, lived with multiple generations under one roof, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of census data. Young adults have replaced older people as the second adult generation in the household. Among people 25 – 29, 31% are residents of multigenerational households. Nearly half of all multigenerational households are comprised of grandparents, parents and grandchildren. This is one reason why the rate of older Americans living alone has dropped since 1990.

Caregiving

The average age of a family caregiver is now 49.2 years old and trending younger. Forty-eight percent of caregivers are 18 – 49 years old. With more generations under the same roof, caregiving is becoming a family affair. Seven percent of grandchildren are taking of their grandparents.

Still, there is a looming crisis of care. In 2010, the ratio of caregivers to people needing care was 7:1; in 2030, it will be 4:1. The 80+ population will increase by 44% between 2030 and 2040; the number of caregivers available will only increase by 10%. The situation completely bottoms out in the 2040s as the boomers are in old, old age. For the next 25 years we will need to attract young people to the field of aging services in huge numbers. Right now, these types of jobs aren’t even on their radar.

The generational interdependencies are clear. The issues are magnified because of the size of the boomer and millennial generations, but the issues of today will surely be repeated as the millennials begin to age, many past the age of 100 — the gift of new longevity.

Design for Aging – Learning from Other Cultures

by Jeffrey P. Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Environmental Gerontologist, and Professor-Parsons School of Design, and Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging

Thinking Cross-Culturally About Aging-in-Place

A different language is a different vision of life.

Federico Fellini, film director & scriptwriter

We are eager to learn from other cultures, but usually not when it comes to making our homes safer or more age-appropriate. Our food preferences are another story. We don’t hesitate to stock our kitchens and cupboards with the ingredients we need for a healthy Chinese stir fry or Turkish couscous.  If only we were as willing to think cross-culturally about aging in place.

We can learn a great deal about home safety from the housing, home-furnishings and design options offered across the world, especially in other nations with rapidly aging populations. Aging in place is a more creative process than it has ever been before.

The beauty of globalization is that it gives us a world of options for designing our homes. To paraphrase Burger King, we can truly “Have it our way,” as we prepare to age in our homes. I learned this lesson well   when Wid Chapman and I were writing Home Design in an Aging World.

Backstory: Home Design in an Aging World

Architect Wid Chapman and I decided to write a book to make cross-cultural comparisons of environments where people age-in-place: everything  from apartments, detached and semi-detached homes, to traditional farmhouses, communes, and high tech dwellings. In 2009, we surveyed homes and home furnishings available to older people in seven of the world’s most rapidly aging nations: Japan, Sweden, China, Brazil, Israel, the United States, and India. By the year 2009, all 7 of these nations were being reshaped by what the Japanese call The Silver Tsunami, and what we describe as The Age Wave.  We decided to do a comparative study of design and architectural responses to global aging.

This led to the publication of  Home Design in an Aging World (NY: Fairchild, 2010).  The book remains one of a handful of cross-cultural comparisons of architecture and design for aging-in-place.

Chapman and I have asked how architecture and design respond to kinship norms. How is aging-in-place shaped by Hindu kinship, which is strongly patriarchal and multigenerational? Or by the sensibilities of Sweden, where fertility is quite low and people typically live in nuclear households?

As environmental gerontologists, we were curious about the impact of age-related norms on aging-in-place. For instance, would aging-in-place be discouraged in Brazil, one of the world’s most youth-oriented societies.  And how about Japan? Unlike Brazil, Japan, is a gerontocracy where elders and old age are honored, and where pride of place in their children’s homes is enjoyed.  What is the impact of the high U.S. divorce rate and small family size on our own architecture and design for aging-in-place?

Chapman and I focused on both Western cultures (USA, Israel, and Brazil); and also on cultures where non-Western architectural norms and traditions are still in play (Japan, China, and India).  What follows are some examples of how constructed environments and local technologies interact with social norms to affect the experience of aging-in-place.

Vernacular Design

Learning from other cultures involves appreciating that there is often a mix of traditional home design – what architects call “vernacular design” – and cutting-edge technologies such as robotics. New technologies, combined with strategic changes in homedesign, are making it easier than ever before to age in place. People on the cusp of retirement can build upon new technologies to create everything from home offices to home care for a variety of chronic illnesses.

What follows is a very brief look at “lessons” drawn from other cultures, ranging from low-tech/high-touch to high-tech/low-touch,  and from ancient to post-modern.

Japan: Living Close To The Floor

There is an old Japanese saying which goes, “May you live and die on tatami.”  This refers to the bamboo mats which cover traditional Japanese homes from wall-to-wall. Home-furnishings in traditional Japanese homes are low-slung or actually on the floor. The futon is perhaps the most familiar example of this approach to home-furnishings. Low, traditional Japanese home furnishings are ofchigaidana-chofu-mori-residence-bigten moved from room to room as needed. This occurs on the tatami mats which cover the floor of a traditional Japanese home.

The floor-based Japanese design aesthetic features low-slung furniture and futons for sleeping that make any home safer. Apart from reducing falls, floor-based lifestyles enhance strength and balance. My sources tell me that even the most contemporary homes in Tokyo or Osaka contain a “Japanese Room” with traditional tatami mats on the floor, and Tokugawa detailing throughout.

Apart from being reverent about its past, Japan is also a world leader in technological innovation.  Japanese homes often contain a mix of products and technologies that hark back centuries, as in the case of traditional tea-sets or futons, and also look ahead to a robotic future. For example, there is a growing number of Japanese households with robotic pets – mostly dogs.

Futurist Timothy Horynak (2006) claims that the interest in robotic house pets reflects Japan’s passion for incorporating the newest of technologies with time-honored canons of Japanese design and home life. Robotics is the product of digital design and innovation. Tatami dates back centuries. That they exist together in some Japanese homes is a reminder that Japanese proudly mix tradition and technology. This may be the new face of aging in place in Japan and elsewhere in the world.

Brazil: Universal Design Begins at the Front Door

Brazilian architect Sandra Perito, from Sao Paulo, has designed Senior Housing that is intended to prevent domestic accidents, especially falls (Rosenfeld and Chapman, 2012). Perito  routinely adds a built-in table on the front porch or entry to a home. Perito makes sure that this Entrée Table is as close to the front door as possible. In apartment buildings for Brazilian Seniors, she does much the same.

The idea behind Perito’s Entrée Table it Seniors a place where they can place packages, bundles, or a purse while searching for their keys. The inspiration came from a elderly woman from Sao Paulo who lost her balance while rummaging through her purse in search of her keys. Perito adds this reminder: her table also functions as a grab-bar for additional balance while locking or unlocking the front door.

Scotland: Why Smaller is Better When it Comes to Refrigerators

On a trip to Scotland many years ago, I visited a number of homes in the Scottish Highlands where people either had very small refrigerators, or no refrigerator at all. Those without refrigerators kept perishable items in their cellars.  The climate in the highlands is such that the home’s basement is always cool enough to put perishables for a day or two.

Philip B. Stafford, author of  Elderburbia: Aging With A Sense of Place in America offers the following advice:  It is best for older people to have small refrigerators.  It has nothing to do with household size, he says.  Very simply, people with small refrigerators must leave home more frequently to do their grocery shopping.  The small refrigerator is an antidote to isolation.

France: Smart Home-Technology 

Beginning in 2013, Paris-based Netatmo has been developing a line of user-friendly Smart Home devices.  By “user-friendl3y,” Netatmo means that their technology provides feedback when and where their user is. For example Netatmo’s home security camera, “…detects and reports in real-time if someone lurks around your home, a car enters your driveway, or your pet is in the yard.”

User-friendly technology provides feedback at home, and also when the user is at work or on vacation.  The user can be far from home and rely on Netatmo’s personal weather station to keep track of  the weather at home. The personal air-quality sensor does the same for levels of air-pollution in and around the house.  The product line also includes a Smart thermostat and a Smart security camera with facial recognition. As more people opt to age-in-place, Netatmo provides the technology for safety and security.

Singapore: Robotic Home-Exercise Coach

In 2015, Singapore company RoboCoach, Inc., introduced  a robotic “exercise coach” at five of Singapore’s Senior Centers. The RoboCoach has a smiling face and appendages  that mimic human movements.  The robot has been developed to teachSeniors  a range of exercises while offering verbal encouragement and support.103266869-robocoach-1910x1000

According to The Guardian, the company predicts that RoboCoach will become a popular fixture in many of Singapore’s Senior Centers and Senior Living Facilities.  The goal is to enable the elderly to lead more independent, fulfilling lives.

“…The android with metal arms and a screen for a face is already leading sessions and will roll out its services to five senior activity centers across the city-state this year.”

Infocomm Development Authority of  Singapore (IDA)

China:  The World’s Earliest Example of Universal Design

BMEHED Elderly Salar man on Kang bed-stove with his granddaughter, Xunhua Salar Autonomous County, Haidong, Qinghai, China

Aging-in-Place, More Global Than Ever

Going forward aging-in-place will mean combining renovation and innovation: changes to the constructed environment of home, and the installation of  technologies which will make living at home safer and easier.  That said, it is as important as ever to respect the role that culture plays in making a home safe to age in place. As technology becomes a more important part of this process we must:

  • Consider how culture shapes the relationship between “private space” and “public space” in and around the home
  • Respect cultural traditions that shape the spaces where people cook, eat, sleep, and toilet. Designers and gerontologists should be mindful of how age, sex, and marital status all shape the form and function of a home
  • Understand the symbolism and social meaning of color in the architecture and design for every culture.

References:

About the Author: For the past 10 years, Dr. Rosenfeld has been researching the interplay of ethnicity, aging, and home design. He is currently looking at home design and community-building by Brooklyn’s “New” ethnic elders from Korean, India, Pakistan, and Guyana. Along with architect Wid Chapman, AIA, he has written Home Design in an Aging World (Bloomsbury, 2010), and UnAssisted Living (Monacelli Press, 2012).

Dr. Rosenfeld is also currently working with the research arm of New York Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  He is looking at ethnic differences (incidence and prevalence) of serious geriatric falls in the home.  The goal is to better understand how ethnically-themed design contributes to ethnic disparities in home injury. Dr. Rosenfeld has been on the adjunct  faculty at Brookdale Center since May, 2015. He can be contacted through Parsons School of Design at Rosenfej@NewSchool.Edu; 347-249-4014.