New generation of tech innovations aims to help elders stay healthy and connected


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JUDY WOODRUFF: Most of us think of start-up companies as primarily focused on younger customers for their business, but some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs see opportunities with a very different demographic. They are designing innovative products for seniors and their caregivers.

The NewsHour’s Cat Wise has our report.

CAT WISE: Eighty-one-year-old Bud Glickman has lived in a San Francisco apartment for nearly two decades. He wants to stay there as long as possible, but he knows he needs some help.

BUD GLICKMAN: I have had some short-term memory problems. I have tripped a couple of times. I certainly don’t want people to be overly concerned about me. On the other hand if something really happened, I would want their support.

CAT WISE: Glickman’s family is very supportive, and they want him to remain independent, in his own home, but they also want to keep an eye on him and make sure he is keeping up with his daily routines without being too intrusive.

The solution? These small, sleek motion sensors placed throughout the apartment. They wirelessly transmit information to a Web-based app that his son David checks regularly.

DAVID GLICKMAN, Lively: For my dad, this morning, I can see that he is eating and drinking, has been getting out of the house, probably walked the dog. But I noticed that, for medication, the face is not green. It’s actually red. And what that means is that he missed the time he’s supposed to take it.

CAT WISE: David Glickman isn’t just a user of the new product called Lively, which helps him stay connected to his dad. He’s also a co-founder of the company.

DAVID GLICKMAN: People are spending money, meaning families are spending money caring for their adults. And we didn’t see anybody really kind of creating beautiful products, super simple, easy to use, and affordable, using today’s technology, not technology 10 years ago.

CAT WISE: Lively is part of a new wave of tech start-ups developing products and apps for seniors and their caregivers. It’s a multibillion-dollar market, which, until recently, has been largely ignored by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

KATY FIKE, Aging2.0: The past products for seniors have been what we call big, beige and boring.

CAT WISE: One of those leading the charge for more innovation in aging is Katy Fike, a 35-year-old former investment banker who has a Ph.D. in Gerontology. She’s the co-founder of Aging2.0, which provides mentoring for start-ups, including Lively, which target the 50-and-older demographic.

KATY FIKE: But we see real potential to bring in the technology folks, bring in the investors, bring in the designers, because I think the more smart brains we have thinking about and looking for new solutions, the better we will all be.

CAT WISE: Many of the start-ups, like one called BrainAid, are trying to keep older adults engaged and living independently longer. Some, like Sabi, are redesigning products used by seniors like canes and pill boxes; others are creating new apps for caregivers.

It’s still too early to know which ones will actually make a dent in the aging services market, which has been long been defined by a certain well-known commercial.

ACTRESS: I have fallen, and I can’t get up.

CAT WISE: But Stephen Johnston, Fike’s Aging2.0 co-founder and a former mobile industry executive, says the new players want to connect with seniors in a different way.

STEPHEN JOHNSTON, Aging2.0: Three-quarters of people over 60 already have a cell phone. If you look at the usage of social media, Facebook and Twitter, the biggest demographic growing is always the — it’s often the 55-65, and increasingly also the over-65 as well.

And, every day, we’re seeing more and more people figure out how — ways to connect this population with the great services that they offer.

CAT WISE: Fike and Johnston decided to base their start-up incubator in a slightly unorthodox location, at a senior center. The Institute on Aging is a Bay Area nonprofit which provides a wide range of services for thousands of elderly clients each year.

Bringing the entrepreneurs and seniors together under one roof has led to a lot of collaborations and has been meaningful for the institute’s aging clients, according to chief operating officer Cindy Kauffman.

CINDY KAUFFMAN, Institute on Aging: As someone gets older, we have a tendency to do for them. And we have their best interests at heart, but we take away their dignity, we take away their purpose. And so part of what this Aging2.0, and Institute on Aging does is, we get their opinion, and then we have a conversation as to what’s available, what’s not available.

But it’s really important. I want my opinion to be heard, and it doesn’t change as we get older.

CAT WISE: And Aging2.0′s Fike says the start-ups have benefited as well.

KATY FIKE: We wanted to immerse the entrepreneurs in who they’re designing for. We didn’t want them to have to guess about what’s needed or about what would work.

You know, there’s all these folks that are really living every single day either as the older adult themselves or the care providers. They know the needs. We just need to pair them with people who know how to make the solutions.

CAT WISE: One of those entrepreneurs is 26-year-old Jay Connolly, the founder of Lift Hero, a new ride-sharing service which employs off-duty EMTs and other medical professionals as drivers. Pickup requests can be made online or over the phone.

Like many of his fellow founders, Connolly says personal experiences with an aging family member inspired him to start his company.

JAY CONNOLLY, Lift Hero: The seed was planted really when my own grandmother — it took her a long time to find a trustworthy driver. And that’s the process we’re trying to facilitate, is make that much easier for someone to find a driver that they trust and get where they need to go.

CAT WISE: On a recent afternoon, Connolly and a group of other young entrepreneurs gathered at Aging2.0 to hear an unusual perspective on product design.

JUNE FISHER, Retired Physician: I hope, you know, that you will be able to develop strategies, so that you can really design for our needs, and not design for something that you think is clever and we will never use.

CAT WISE: June Fisher, an 81-year-old retired physician and product design lecturer at Stanford, is now Aging2.0′s chief elder executive. Among the first products she’d like to see redesigned are her walking sticks, which she thinks are ugly. She appreciates being asked to give her advice and being taken seriously.

JUNE FISHER: I want things that make my everyday life easier, and that they’re aesthetically appropriate. And I don’t want to be labeled as an old lady and being pampered and catered to, but not really addressing my needs to participate in everyday life.

CAT WISE: For their part, Aging2.0 co-founders Fike and Johnston refute any skepticism that technology can truly improve seniors’ quality of life.

KATY FIKE: I really don’t see technology replacing what humans do. I think it really augments what we can do. I think it fills the time when someone would have been alone. It fills the time when you probably couldn’t have gotten there.

And I think it also changes and improves the quality of when you are together. You know, if you have been having kind of ongoing interactions remotely, that, when you’re together, you’re more in synch. You can kind of catch up in a more meaningful way.

CAT WISE: The number of seniors in the U.S. is expected to double by 2050 to more than 85 million, a statistic very much on the minds of the new aging entrepreneurs.

GWEN IFILL: We have a photo gallery of products designed to help seniors age in place created by students as part of a competition sponsored by Stanford University and Aging2.0. That’s on our Web — on our home page.

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