On Oct. 11, 2019, academics and healthcare professionals joined United Church Homes leadership, staff and friends to participate in the Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging Fourth Annual Symposium: The Promise of Technology for Aging Abundantly.
Set in the beautiful Renaissance Westerville-Polaris Hotel in central Ohio, the conference offered attendees a day filled with learning and fellowship, featuring a top-notch keynote speaker, quick-fire presentations, technology demonstrations and moderated panel discussions.
The Longevity Economy
The day began with keynote Dr. Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, who spoke on “Inventing Life Tomorrow in Today’s Longevity Economy.”
In his lively presentation, he engaged the crowd with such compelling statistics as, “By 2020, the 60+ population will control 30 percent of global spend” and “Only 35 percent of people age 75 report that they ‘felt old’ (but) 100 percent of people know personal emergency response pendants are for old people.”
One attendee noted that Coughlin’s discussion of the importance of design was eye-opening, noting that “no one wants to use stuff that looks like it’s for ‘old’ people.”
Next up, facilitator Dr. Cynthia Dougherty, director at the Office of Geriatrics and Interprofessional Aging Studies at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, introduced three timed Ignite presentations. Limited to five minutes each, Ignite presentations consist of 20 presentation slides that advance automatically, every 15 seconds — challenging, to say the least.
The first session highlighted Nesterly, a home-sharing concept where older adults open their homes to students and young professionals, offering not only a safe place to rent but also an opportunity for friendship and life enrichment across generations. Age Friendly Columbus’ Frances Krumholz shared Nesterly with conferees, with Columbus serving as the pilot community for Nesterly’s Ohio presence.
Optimized Care Network
Following Nesterly, Linda Mauger and Kathryn Brod, from LeadingAge, explained the Optimized Care Network, a revolutionary telehealth service that connects individuals to world-class healthcare teams, no matter their location. OCN promises lower healthcare costs and greater accessibility.
In the third Ignite presentation, Michael Sentz enlightened the room with his network CaringWire. After watching how his mother struggled while caring for her aging parents, Michael realized the lack of support for adults with parents nearing the end of life. CaringWire serves as a resource for people going through this difficult time, using technology to offer information and support for caregivers. CaringWire’s mission is to reduce caregiver burden and increase the quality of life.
Contribution to Abundant Aging Award: Dr. Joseph Coughlin
During lunch, Rev. Kenneth Daniel, United Church Homes president and CEO, presented Dr. Coughlin with the Parker Center’s Contribution to Abundant Aging Award. Both surprised and humbled, Dr. Coughlin addressed Rev. Daniel and the room with heartfelt words of appreciation.
Assistive Robots and Virtual Reality
Following lunch, Parker Center Executive Director Rev. Beth Long-Higgins facilitated the research and development demonstrations, with research from OSU and Vanderbilt University. Dr. Lorraine Mion, from the OSU College of Nursing, shared her team’s work on socially assistive robots. Her presentation included videos that showed the robots interacting with people, which included pairing robots with older adults living with dementia or cognitive impairment. The robots have been engineered to interact and engage individuals facing these and other social challenges. After Dr. Mion spoke, Vita Berezina-Blackburn and her team from OSU’s Advanced Computer Center for the Arts and Design presented “Building Empathy in Dementia Care With Virtual Reality Simulation for Practitioners.” Their research included using virtual reality to demonstrate what it’s like to have dementia.
Building the Future
In the final session of the day, Rev. Daniel took the stage again to moderate a conversation with Dr. Majd Alwan, senior vice president of technology and executive director at LeadingAge’s Center for Aging Services and Technology, and Scott Collins, president and CEO, LinkAge Connect. The presentation, “Building the Future: Technology. Ethics. Security. Accessibility.,” featured a thoughtful discussion.
Several overarching messages emerged throughout the day. Technology only will increase in its applicability to improve the quality of life for older adults. And as Boomers enter into these last 8,000 days of life, they already are bringing experience and interest in using technology, increasing the demand and opportunity for the intersection of technology and aging.
We are aging in an interesting era in which the opportunities for us to use technology only will increase as together our imaginations create new tech solutions for us to age abundantly.
Next year, the Parker Center will host its fifth symposium — Aging Abundantly: Power in Community on Friday, Oct. 9.