The “technology wave” is meeting the “age wave” and bringing with it a future for seniors that will be marked by them staying vital, active and working productively even into their 80s.
That’s the baby boomers’ future as envisioned by Richard Adler, a distinguished fellow in the field of aging and technology at the Institute for the Future, in Palo Alto, Calif., who spoke Oct. 15 to an audience of mostly seniors at a Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors event held at the Gelber Conference Centre.
“Seniors need to be seen as a resource,” said Adler, who is over 70 himself.
“Never forget: the older you are, the more credibility you have.”
Increasingly, Adler said, advances in innovation and technology are being road-tested by companies such as OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) in New York and in places where large numbers of seniors live, such as Sarasota, Fla., and Toronto’s Baycrest seniors centre, which has an Institute for Technology and Design.
He said technological innovations for seniors are affecting everything from health care and seniors services to social work.
There are several reasons why this age-related technology wave is happening now, Adler said.
Baby boom demographics is one factor. Adler said the over-60 age cohort will rise by more than 70 per cent over the next 20 years, and the number of people older than 85 will double.
In 2010, four per cent of the population was over 80, but by 2050, it will be 10 per cent. Fourteen per cent of Canadians are seniors, and in Montreal, they make up 20 per cent of the Jewish community.
Other factors that account for the tech wave, he said, include a steady increase in life expectancy and the fact that, in general, “the world is getting older,” Adler said.
“For the first time in history, we will have more people over 65 than under five.”
Combine those demographic numbers with design and technology revolution of the past 60 years and you get the recipe for older and healthier adults entering a “life stage” that Adler likes to call “adulthood II.”
Adler noted that in 1956, the first primitive computers cost a fortune, worked with tubes and held only a few hundred megabytes of memory.
Now, you can hold a computer in your hand that contains a terabyte, or one trillion bytes, of data and costs a fraction of the price.
For baby boomers who are becoming seniors, new technologies and innovation herald “a new phase of life we did not see before,” one characterized by “emerging new lifestyles” marked by continued vitality and productivity, Adler said.
Another trend, he said, will be “virtual villages” for seniors that will link communities across the continent and around the world.
Adler also referred to a process he called “re-institutionalization,” in which innovative technology helps reinvent everything from “virtual seniors centres” and housing to nursing homes and health-care centres.
“One mobile device I’ve been working on will be the equivalent of having a ‘doctor in your pocket,’” Adler said. Many other apps and software applications are in the works.
Adler noted that the old model of life was to work and then spend your retirement years as a vacation.
“The new model is to work, yes, but then to stay productive,” he said.
“You don’t retire anymore. You just go on to other things.”