When the older adult news agency Next Avenue released its 2016 list of top 50 Influencers in Aging last month, it was rife with Californians, yet none so deeply involved in a dizzying array of initiatives than David Lindeman, director of the Oakland-based Center for Technology and Aging.
And Lindeman has something important to say: a new era of “connected aging” is changing everything we know about aging: health, transportation, communication, interaction, safety, caregiving and beyond.
“Technology has become an indispensable adjunct to successful aging,” Lindeman says.
And it’s moving fast.
Imagine waking up in the morning knowing a digital sensor has monitored your body’s health data and uploaded it to a central database for physicians and family members alike. A home sensor notices you wobbling as you walk, which could mean your blood pressure medicine needs adjustment. Your caregiver, who you’ve booked online and knows your habits and preferences, shows up on time since she lives in your neighborhood. An online community mitigates your social isolation with interactions that include video chats, travel excursions, big band music, and brain teasers.
The center’s 2014 report The New Era of Connected Aging outlines four overarching categories of change: the human body, the home environment, community interactions, and caregiving.
“The problems in aging represent some of the most complex issues for society, but also some of the most intriguing challenges,” says Lindeman, who also sits on the executive council of the California chapter of AARP.
Besides a tireless work ethnic and vast intelligence, Lindeman is impressive on other fronts. Steeped in federal Alzheimer’s research, older adult social programs, and cutting-edge technology, he could easily succumb to geek-speak and elitism. Instead, his soft-spoken voice offers modest observations suffused with deep humanism.
Today, one of the most vexing challenges of aging is a lack of mobility, which often prevents older adults from shopping and visiting doctors. Lindeman heralds the driverless car as a potential game-changer.
Senior living campuses, he points out, are typically controlled or enclosed spaces where residents follow typical routes to shop, say, for groceries or prescription drugs before returning home.
“Aging could be one of the first test bed successes of autonomous vehicles.”
Lindeman travels the world to work with governments and NGO’s to help adopt technology solutions for aging populations, yet says much of this innovation happens right here in California — “a technology-centric state.”
In Silicon Valley and beyond there is explosive activity at the intersection of aging and technology: health monitoring by Care Innovations, family interaction from Independa, online caregiver firms like CareLinx and Honor, research from USC’s new Center for Digital Aging, and dozens of other organizations and startups throughout the state.
Entrepreneurs thank the technology incubator Aging 2.0 for fostering speedier growth in the worlds of private enterprise and venture capital.
Lindeman focuses his attention on university and government settings, most notably as health sector lead for the University of California collaborative CITRIS – the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society.
In his CITRIS role via UC Berkeley, Lindeman oversees developments in telehealth – healthcare offered digitally for distant patients. It includes sensors, mobile apps, video consultations, and digital games that promote exercise and improve behavioral health.
Lindeman’s health initiative is one of four CITRIS focus areas that also include robotics, connected communities and sustainable infrastructures (such as energy, water, transportation). All four intersect with older adults.
CITRIS fuses expertise in medicine, engineering, and a variety of sciences at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. Meshing 80 core faculty members with annual research income of $90 million, CITRIS has helped spawn more than 60 start-up companies.
Lindeman also heralds the UC Davis Health System’s Center for Health and Technology which is “on the cutting edge” of technology.
Launched under the administration of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the center trains students, faculty and physicians and is halfway through an expansion which will make it “one of the premiere testing centers” in the world for health and technology, he says.
“It’s going to be spectacular.”
Center director Thomas Nesbitt has recently declared aging as a primary area of focus for the center in the future.
Two summers ago, the center and CITRIS co-hosted representatives from Denmark to discuss expanding the existing Transatlantic Telehealth Research Network collaborative focusing on cardiology and telehealth. Since then, the network has not only flourished, but the U.S. State Department has asked its California members to help create a new telehealth system in remote Greenland.
The advantages of learning from collaborations abroad? “We still have so much in the U.S. we can learn from that process.”
Placing technology and aging firmly on the national agenda, in March the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST, presented the second half of its report Independence, Technology and Connection in Older Age to the White House.
The report explores a variety of areas critical to healthy aging: health monitoring; digital training; fraud prevention; improved emergency response; cognitive health; social connection and engagement; and an integrated federal response.
“It absolutely has been a wonderful statement and a list of specific actionable items the government can work on,” says Lindeman of the report.
Lindeman compares PCAST with the efforts of the World Health Organization’s aging and technology group. Both, says Lindeman, agree that fall prevention, mobility and medication adherence are critical to aging in place – keeping older adults at home instead of in expensive nursing homes.
“These are the big issues that force people from their homes.”
Lindeman consults extensively throughout the world, where the problems of aging are often even more acute.
Of China’s 1.36 billion people, for instance, more than 250 million are over 60. The country’s vast rural areas, and past policies limiting families to just one child, have decimated its workforce – including caregivers for the elderly.
“By 2040 they are going to be consumed by this,” says Lindeman.
In recent months, Lindeman has welcomed officials from Singapore and traveled to both China and Japan – both of which have acute aging challenges. He adds that Japan has the world’s highest proportion of older adults as well as the highest percentage of citizens with dementia.
“The Japanese say ‘We can’t handle this without technology,’” says Lindeman.
“We’re in the middle of a global revolution in terms of how technology can help all population groups,” he says.
Tech projects in Asia and northern Europe – Denmark, The Netherlands, Finland – are emerging “remarkably quickly.”
There, innovation is being introduced in a wide array of areas: care coordination, social engagement, dementia care, and transportation, many of them mobile- or web-based.
Yet aging problems are not limited solely to modern economies.
“It’s no longer just the developed countries that are dealing with this,” he says. “Aging and chronic disease are catching up to all countries: China, India, Africa.”
And the challenges of aging in poorer countries, such as Africa and Southeast Asia, will necessitate low-cost solutions.
While aging challenges differ by geography, Lindeman says technology can help everywhere, citing one example from Southeast Asia. While most hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, Thailand has created a $300 device.
“The technologies are getting faster, smarter cheaper.”