The Longevity

Forbes Speculates on How People 50+ Will Live in the Future

PBS’ Next Avenue, a service journalism project dedicated the 50+ consumer, recently turned five, and in honor of that birthday, they decided to look at the future of aging in America–and make some predictions. Contributing writer Shayla Stern’s piece–posted by Forbes–focused on elements of “living” for the 50+. Not surprisingly, technology plays a large role in her vision.

The future of the way people 50 and older live and learn will be increasingly more connected and networked — social networks, cloud-based networks and actual real-live human networks.

For this article, we reached out to leaders and creative thinkers in areas covered in our Living & Learning channel to predict and imagine how we will live and learn in five years, 10 years and way, way down the road — the Jetsons prediction, as we’ve been calling it internally.

The Five Year Prediction: More Pervasive Home Automation

Scott Moody is the CEO and founder of K4Connect, a tech company that serves older adults and people with disabilities through software platforms that integrate devices, systems and applications into a single system that can work together and be managed as one form of application. Moody believes that in five years there will be a more seamless approach to accessing apps and managing household items — something we currently think about as the “Internet of Things” (IoT), or home automation.

“We’ve seen all these new ideas, products and applications coming out, but look: You can’t put 50,000 apps on your device and live a good life,” he said. “A lot of people talk about IoT and home automation, but it hasn’t really been successful.”

This is because the Internet of Things is not simple enough to use now. Companies like Moody’s are working to overcome this.

So what does a “more ideal” smart home look like?

In a perfect IoT system, an older person could stand up in the middle of the night and a light would automatically turn on and potentially prevent a fall. Or if the person missed taking a medication, an alert would come over his or her in-house stereo system. Moody’s company is working to assure that doorbells, door locks, motion sensors, streaming music, blood pressure monitors and pill reminders, as well as video chat and photo sharing, are automated through a central platform that can be controlled by a user’s smartphone or tablet.

Will this revolution really happen in the next five years?

[It] is “definitely coming,” [Moody] said, “but is it a few years? Is it five? It might be a little bit more” for a majority of older adults to be able to have such systems involved in their homes or retirement communities.

“It has to be an open system — a very open system, in my opinion — and not this monstrosity of individual things to make home automation really work,” Moody added. “New products and new ideas will have to be able to come out without a complete revamp of a whole system.”

However, Moody points out, we may see an important consideration with older adults in 10 years: income-level changes.

The Ten-Year Prediction: Tech That is Truly For an Aging Population

Americans in the next decade likely will retire with far less savings than their parents did. “The fact of the matter is the population we serve is, in fact, going to be very financially challenged in the future,” Moody said. “People today have pensions and insurance programs, but now people are retiring with maybe $25,000 in a 401(k). It’s going to be financially challenging for them.”

Because of this, tech-based systems for living will have to become not only more seamless, but also more affordable.

Will that affordable solution be lots of robots, to handle everything from housecleaning to caregiving? Moody doesn’t think so.

[He says] the lack of humanity (and affordability) of robots makes him believe they will be less prevalent than some predict.

Additionally, Moody hopes that technological development will skew to being created with older adults in mind. “All these products are coming out every day and some of them are pretty neat. They’re all being designed for 25-year-olds, not the people we serve,” he said. “Then someone slaps a bigger font on it and says they’ve adapted it for 90-year-olds.”

More importantly, older adults do not all see themselves as ill, and even if they are, living in a fulfilling way means they want to address more than just their health issues.

In a recent essay posted on Next Avenue, Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, warned against conflating growing older with health issues, which he said will be an especially important distinction to make for developers and inventors seeking to make innovations in the way we live as we age. “Older people, especially the oldest among us, are more likely to suffer from multiple chronic conditions and require significant care,” Coughlin wrote. “But while this may be the story for some older adults, illness and older age are not equivalents. And even elderly patients managing chronic disease want to do things that do not involve their ‘conditions’.”

Moody agreed, noting that as a boomer himself, he was especially sensitive to tech innovators treating older people like patients as they consider design.

“Too many people look at you when you turn 65 like you’re a patient and they want to tell you what to do,” he said. “At the end of the day, we all want purpose, and sometimes that purpose is the ability to take some level of care of myself. That whole idea of providing technology so I can live the life I want — that’s what I really want.”

The Distant Future…Has Arrived

The piece finished up with a roundup of some more possibilities that may not be so far-fetched as they sound.

The Jetsons, you’ll recall, lived in a flying saucer-like apartment building on the tallest stilts you’ve seen, accessible only by space car or jetpack, with a robotic maid and cool contraptions like smartwatches and 3D printers for food that actually exist today.

3D printed houses (that can be finished in 8 hours)

Homes with appliances that can look, speak and teach like humans

‘Smart threads’ that can allow fabric on your furniture to change color instantly and frequently

Homes equipped with virtual reality as a means of helping with dementia or distracting from pain