The disconnect between what seniors want and need and what everybody else thinks they need was one of the talking points to emerge from the d.health Summit in New York City this week. This is especially true of one frequently overlooked segment of the senior population — people with functional limitations who also qualify for Medicare and Medicaid.
Dr. June Fisher, a physician focused on occupational health and “Chief Elder Officer” for Aging 2.0, mentors design students at San Francisco State University and University of California, Berkeley and consults with startups on design and mobility. Speaking in a panel discussion on aging safely and happily and the future of the built environment, she voiced her frustration with young healthcare entrepreneurs out of touch with the needs of their target users in the aging population.
“I was quite angry at these 20-year olds who would tell me their technology will change our lives when they have no understanding of our experience,” Fisher said. “We are hopeful that [entrepreneurs] are learning to appreciate our life experience.” She added that some elders [she preferred that word to seniors]
are learning the language of design, citing an undergraduate course at Berkeley combining design and public health that included with 15 elders or “sages”.
On the other hand, Fisher opined that some designs that resonate with her and other “elders” are passed over by investors. She said many investors don’t seem to understand the needs of the aging market or they “lack imagination”.
As an example, Fisher referenced CityCart —a winner of a design challenge by Stanford Center for Longevity that combines a shopping cart and a walker.
Of course, it takes more than a good design to attract investors. The company’s management team, track record and business model figure into those decisions as well.
In an attempt to address some of the practical needs and preferences of seniors Sarah Szanton, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, highlighted an initiative she has developed for seniors who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare. The goal is to improve their quality of life, safety and reduce healthcare costs.
Community Aging in Place Advancing Better Living for Elders, or CAPABLE, is a five-month program that began eight years ago, said Szanton. Teams are equipped with an outreach worker or an occupational therapist, a registered nurse, and a handyman.
She noted the program has generated interest from accountable care organizations and some Medicare Advantage plans in Michigan. To date, the program has a presence in 12 cities across five states. Steadying shaky banisters, making bathrooms more accessible and plugging up holes in floors, are some examples of the kinds of projects the teams have undertaken.
“In medical care, we tend to say it would be good if you had [a good night’s sleep] or no holes in the floor, but we’re rarely in a position to fix it,” Szanton said. “This program is designed to increase autonomy.”