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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Elderbloggers Pioneering the Future of Aging

In a story at boston.com about the future of aging, reporter Leon Neyfalkh concludes:

”...one thing we can definitely count on is that the old people of the future will have been young once — and the lives they were accustomed to then will, more than anything else, determine the lives they expect to lead later. Here’s hoping the iPad 15 plays cat videos.”

Although there are points in Neyfalkh's story with which I take issue, those like the one above referencing the fact that elders in 2040 or 2050 and beyond will have been using forms of computer technology all their lives, are spot on.

By then, that technology will allow remote monitoring of vital signs and other clues to an elder's health and well-being that will allow physicians and family members to keep watch from afar and intervene quickly when necessary while allowing future elders to live longer independently.

This struck me as such a smart observation:

“'Many of the problems of aging are evanescent — they come and they go,' said Tracy Zitzelberger, the administrative director of the Oregon Center for Aging and Technology at Oregon Health & Science University, which is developing a number of monitoring devices.

“'There are good days and bad days. When we only see our doctors on a good day because that’s when we don’t cancel our appointments, we get a very skewed assessment of our functioning. And that doesn’t get at the heart of the challenges of aging.'”

Not only that, I sometimes don't mention problems to my doctor because they don't seem important enough or, more frequently, because whatever it is hasn't bothered me for awhile so I forget.

As Neyfalkh notes, monitoring and observation that to you and me seem intrusive and even invasive will be commonplace to the elders of tomorrow, having been accustomed all their lives to tracking one anothers' locations via GPS and sharing every jot and tittle of their lives through Facebook or whatever will eventually replace it. (Yes, Facebook will become old fashioned and fade – probably sooner than we think.)

One of the biggest problems of old age is isolation. When we retire, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace. Old friends move away or die. For varieties of reasons, we ourselves move, leaving friends of many years behind. Children take up residence in faraway states and even countries.

Age can bring physical limitations too, keeping many from getting out and about. When the day comes to give up driving, we are further confined, and loneliness is serious business. It leads to depression, illness and sometimes, early death.

For all those reasons and more, I believe blogging – doing it oneself or as a reader and commenter – is an almost perfect pastime for elders. We have discussed in the past the importance of the friends we make and how they become, even at a distance, integral to our daily lives.

Neyfalkh acknowledges this and goes further:

”The people who will be facing these challenges in 40 years will be people accustomed to amusing themselves digitally, and creating a social life for themselves without another person physically present.

“To put it bluntly, the people who turn 70 in the year 2050 will be people who grew up playing video games. And the digital environment that now seems like a recipe for distraction — a constant feed of personal messages, links, and updates on one’s friends — starts to look a lot like a way for even a housebound person to stay engaged with the world.”

But you and I know that already, don't we? The kids of today will arrive at old age as natives to digital culture, but we are the pioneers, having taken it up in mid- and even late life and made it our own.

Were there no computers or internet, I have no doubt I would have found ways to keep myself as engaged as I do with this laptop. But I am assured now that if the day comes when I am stuck at home most of the time, I will never be lonely thanks to all of you.

And speaking of cat videos and iPads - oh, all right, it's an iPod:


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone: Comparison of a Royal Wedding and a Commoners'


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Remember VCRs? Well, a friend I had would play videos for her several cats & they watched from the ottoman or couch. They even had favorites like Nemo:) & they were just as cute as this kitten.:)

As usual, a great post & thanks for the link. Dee

Hi Ronni,
Funny how he doesn't talk about the web pioneers of elder blogging. The unsaid assumption is that old people don't know how to use computers, but the 'kids these days' who are playing video games, they'll be the connected ones when THEY get older. I think researchers need to get out more, or at least online to visit your blog and my mom's blog. ;-)

One last thing, that that cat video, iPod game was unfair to the cat. It didn't give the cat any positive feedback when it caught something.

I think the researchers should spend some time on that. ;-)

Saw that article and thought to myself, wouldn't it be interesting to converse with elders about how we see medical intervention (and monitoring) in our futures.

Here's the origin of my question: I watched my parents age -- and they barely bothered with doctors. They thought you soldiered on, collecting some aches and pains but mostly ignoring them, and then you died. And that's what they did. Mostly they didn't much try to get help from the medical profession; my father was only diagnosed with emphysema 10 days before its effects killed him.

And given what medicine could do for people during most of their lives, I'm not sure my parents were crazy to largely skip it.

But medicine now can do all sorts of things to extend life. It can even make us feel better! So naturally we will be monitored, etc.

But I bet there is a balance there somewhere between how my parents lived and died and Mr. Neyfalkh's vision of medicalized future. I expect to try to live into some kind of balance ...

Wholeheartedly agree with janinsasnfran. I prefer a moderation of my parents' and grandparents' stoicism and the article's Big Brother watching you.

However, I do consider it intelligent to go for a checkup every 6 months, but otherwise refer to doctors only in an extreme emergency, which rarely happens.

Probably use my Kaiser-Permanente's medical services far less than their younger patients, obese patients, or hypochondriac patients.

Can't abide people who run to their doctor for every sneeze and sniffle.

Do I sound like an old curmudgeon? You bet. But I'm a happy one! ;-)

While it does bother me that some day my kids might find me toes up after several days, I'm not comfy with the monitoring concept. I have my cell in my pocket, call me and I'll call you. I think it's different if you don't have family and friends nearby or are likely to have a stroke or heart trouble. On the other hand for the people I worry about I'd like them to have it. A conundrum.

If some unkind act of fate leaves us alone and trapped in the house (my lively grandmother was hit by a drunk driver and unable to leave the house alone at age 55), I will cherish my cell phone and my PC above my other possessions. Fortunately I live near my large family and have lovely neighbors both younger and older.

I delight in that kitty. I don''t delight in losing friends, and I wrote about that very thing today. Computer art may be the hottest stuff going, but I loved the physical interaction with my friends and doing my art. I still need to work harder on today's piece, but it's up.

Curmudgeonism is ok. I understand completely.

Good piece - I've been using the internet since 1993, when I was 45. My youngest son was 2 that year and that was the year I started him on the computer. He thinks I'm at least somewhat wired - isn't everyone? But I think there are a lot of older folks (40 and up actually) who aren't. I just started my own aging blog, as a way to express my feelings - it's how I found this wonderful place. I wonder, how much do the younger folks want to hear older folks and how much do we want them to hear us? Some of what we have to offer is wonderful (at least we think so) advice and insight. But some of what I'm finding about aging is pretty scary. Probably selective hearing takes care of a lot.. okay, enough.. I'm rambling on. Like I said I'd never do.. ha ha ha.

During the 7 years I cared for my husband who had Alzheimer's, being able to get online to shop, blog, and stay in touch with family and friends was a lifesaver.

And now, living alone, nearing 70 with some health issues, and having no family nearby, being able to get online is, once again, a lifesaver.

Changing the subject, that cute kitty must be declawed. If not, then that's one tough screen. I love the way the cat tried to figure out where the bug went when it vanished off-screen.

Speaking of cats, Ronni, do those two stray cats still come around?

Blogging is a godsend as my agoraphobia grows worse. Leaving the house is a challenge these days but I'm trying very hard.

I love cats, so of course I love cat anything! As far as having Big Brother intrude even further in my life, I don't know. I have very mixed feelings about that. Emergency cellphone, yes. Being online, yes. Monitors following my every move? I don't think so--at least I hope not for a long time.

I think janinsanfran and miki have the same philosophy about doctors as I do. I try to avoid going except for the essential preventive stuff and when I'm really sick, which hasn't been very often so far. At this point Medicare is ahead of the game on me. Still, I think about what may be imposed on me during the last 3-6 months of my life despite all the documents I've signed. I'm every bit as concerned about loss of my person-hood and control over my life as I am about physical pain.

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