Innovation in health and ageing: Aging2.0 Conference

Reporting on Aging2.0 conference, San Francisco: the latest thinking in ageing and innovation

Are you surprised to hear the words ‘ageing’ and ‘innovation’ mentioned in the same sentence?  Having just spent 3 days in San Francisco with 900 dynamos from around the world at Aging2.0, I can assure you there is loads of really exciting innovation happening in ageing, from products to AI, from city planning to virtual reality and from shifts in attitudes to the widespread focus on ways to address social isolation in older people.

How about the concept of social robotics?  Jibo is the brainchild of Cynthia Breazeal, Director of the Personal Robotics Group at MIT Media Lab.  Jibo sits on a bench top and is able to ask questions, provide relevant and meaningful responses and identify risks such as changes to usual behaviour.

Other similar benchtop, responsive AI products that were showcased include Elli Q which aims to interact with isolated older people in their own home, and Australian product Sofihub, which is able detect changes to the usual behaviours at home, for example a fall, and then automatically raises an alert.  Nothing like the stereotypical robot.

Not yet an offer for older people, but maybe in the near future we will see something like Snoo. If you’ve ever had a baby that won’t go to sleep, Snoo will delight you.  This incredibly smart bassinet safely swaddles your baby, identifies if he or she is crying, and intuitively starts to gently rock, simulating a parent’s movements.  If baby is still unsettled, Snoo adds in some white noise. Magic! The challenge from Snoo’s designer Yves Behar ‘to design for delight not deficit’ really resonated with me.

Snoo intelligent sleeper

Snoo by designer Yves Behar

The ‘Unforgettable’ web platform won the conference start up prize, and rightly so.  This UK based site sells 1000 widely- sourced products specifically designed for people with dementia.  It’s a clearly laid out, one stop shop that also provides resources to supplement and guide both carers and those with dementia.

It was really heartening to see councils, municipalities and some countries taking on the economic equations that so clearly demonstrate the value of simple health promotion and preventive measures, in providing demonstrable savings by reducing the need for hospitalisations.  The AgeWell program uses older people to visit isolated frail or ill people with chronic conditions, with visits focused on medication adherence, nutrition, early referral and of course, social isolation.  SilverSneakers provides dynamic tailored exercise classes for older people in gyms all across the US.   The cost to attend SilverSneakers is fully health fund funded.

The city of Centennial, Colorado, is soon to introduce a mobile senior centre.  What a fabulous idea.  What about a mobile subsidised food van for isolated people, selling fresh food at cost?  This would surely also be applicable for other socially disadvantaged groups where better nutrition and better access to fresh food could combat obesity, overweight and diabetes. And far cheaper than medications and hospitalisations.

Nova Scotia in Canada has identified the high rates of entrepreneurship among older populations, with ventures started by ‘seniorpreneurs’ twice as likely to succeed as those started by people under 35 years of age. Their ‘Shift’ program aims to challenge myths around ageing.

As Simon D’Entrement noted, ‘ageing is not a problem that needs to be fixed’.  How do we shift to see seniors as an asset?  How do we change the mindset around ageing to truly support ageing in place, ‘thriving in community’ and a healthy active engaged and purposeful life for all our older citizens?

Social isolation was a key theme of Aging2.0 – so pleasing as this is such a vital element of quality of life as we age.  Addressing social isolation and building long term connections is a key pillar and objective of our 60+andActive program, which commenced in the community in October 2017 initially at Evolution Pilates in Annandale.  Most communities haven’t found a successful solution to social isolation and loneliness in older people, yet it is absolutely essential for us all if we are to thrive – no matter what age.

At the next Aging2.0 it would be good to see more age, gender and cultural diversity on the stage, and also a focus on solutions and innovation addressing less socially advantaged older people, so that the benefits of these exciting opportunities are shared equitably.  And I am also really looking forward to the Australian Aging2.0 chapter, having heard a whisper that one may start soon.

Large conferences are always stimulating.  Aging2.0 was no exception.  A wonderfully dynamic group of people from around the world with some truly innovative solutions and ideas.  And from the Aging2.0 organisation themselves, eight global challenges that, if addressed well, will indeed bring value and improve many older people’s lives.

aging2.0 grand challenges

Aging2.0 Grand Challenges

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