Notes from the Aging 2.0 Global Innovation Summit

This past week, I attended the second Aging 2.0 Global Innovation Summit.

I wrote about the first one here. It’s now a year later, and I would say that the health and aging experience of the average older adult still hasn’t changed much.

But this perhaps isn’t so surprising. It’s been said that

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

So presumably we’re on track. The aging innovation community certainly seems to be growing and expanding its horizons, and this year again, I heard about many intriguing ideas and technologies.

I did live-tweet most of the summit, so for details on what was covered and what technologies were presented on stage, see the Storify here, or below. (Full disclosure: Aging 2.0 graciously extended a complimentary invitation to me.)

In the rest of this post, I’ll share some thoughts on what stood out to me during the conference.

Key Themes of the Aging 2.0 Innovation Summit

The summit started off with Aging 2.0 founders Katy Fike and Stephen Johnston taking the stage to present four key themes for the day:

  1. Learning from Adjacent Industries
  2. Fostering Intergenerational Innovation
  3. Showcasing Next-Generation Ideas
  4. Executing at Scale

I was especially intrigued when they illustrated theme 1 by pointing out that healthcare + hospitality = seniorcare. (By which I think they mean assisted living and other senior housing providers.)

And I loved their clarification of theme 2: intergenerational innovation means innovating WITH older adults instead of doing it “for” them.

More Healthcare at Aging 2.0

I was glad to see healthcare more prominently featured in the programming, since better health care is a huge part of optimizing the health and wellbeing of older adults.

That said, I was surprised that the healthcare keynote, delivered by Dr. Tom Lee of OneMedical, wasn’t more senior health-specific.

Now, as a primary care innovation junkie, I’ve long been a great admirer of Lee’s work in creating OneMedical. That said, as far as I know OneMedical has not yet particularly developed depth in caring for older adults, although they do accept Medicare patients and presumably they’ll continue to develop their capacities in this respect. (I have even referred several older adults to OneMedical, because it has better primary care infrastructure than most clinics do.)

Lee’s keynote addressed innovating in healthcare, but not really innovating to improve the health of older adults. I would’ve liked for him to address issues like:
  • What proportion of OneMedical’s patients are older? What proportion are older and medically complex? What proportion are older and in assisted living?
  • How is providing healthcare to older adults different? What are the particular challenges that are the biggest sticking point? How is One Medical trying to optimize this? How can technology help?

Also, given that Aging 2.0 is fairly oriented towards the needs of senior living providers — because in the end, it’s better business for aging startups to sell to enterprises than to consumers — it was too bad that no one seriously spoke about the fairly substantial health needs of seniors who are in assisted living. (Howard Gleckman mentions this regularly in his column for Forbes, such as in this article.)I myself have found that providing medical care to seniors who are in assisted living is generally a challenge, since the facility adds a whole layer of extra people, processes, and regulations to the process. (See here, here, and here, where I’ve written about my experiences. Since then many facilities have upgraded to electronic medication management systems and it’s STILL a pain for me.) And yes, I know certain companies are working on solutions, but they haven’t yet come to the facilities where I see people.

In the future, I’d like to see aging innovation conferences feature innovators who’ve found ways to address the health and living needs of seniors, but could benefit from technology to better leverage their efforts. A prime example would be a PACE program such as OnLok, which combines social services with health services.

The Needs of the “Modern Elder”

The second keynote was delivered by Chip Conley who is “Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy” at Airbnb.

I’ll confess I don’t really understand what that title means, and I’m not even sure what is meant by “hospitality” and how it fits into aging innovation. (Unless we’re talking about senior housing? Or does this also mean a healthcare provider’s office should be appealing? Obviously, business people speak a language that is different from that of doctors and health services researchers.)

But his talk was interesting, since he presented a proposed heirarchy of older adult needs and described the features of a “modern elder.”

A slide from Chip Conley’s Keynote
   Here’s a pyramid of needs, based on the famous pyramid of Maslow. It places affordable housing and healthcare at the bottom — I might add social services too — and the “modern elder” at the top.
Conley explained that his experience of being a modern elder was largely shaped by his joining Airbnb in 2013, where he was much older than the founders and most of the other employees. He was also more experienced, having been disruptive in founding a boutique hotel chain, and also then been disrupted by Airbnb itself.
Conley found that as an “elder” in the company, he brought these special talents:
  • Being curious about things, especially things that his younger colleagues took for granted.
  • Being emotionally savvy, whereas most younger people are very digitally savvy
  • Being well-read and well-connected.
Now, being a geriatrician I have difficulty thinking of Conley as an elder. (Just look at his Twitter profile pic here.) The summit did feature 91 year old Ideo designer Barbara Beskind at one point but during the whole day she was really the only person on stage who looked like someone who might be on the receiving end of the many innovative products described during the day.That said, I really appreciated the way Chip Conley’s talk highlighted the value of having older people in our lives, and I hope his talk will encourage younger people to connect more with older adults.
His talk also highlighted the value in helping people move up the heirarchy, whether at work (job –> career –> calling) or just in taking life up a step. This spoke to me, given the way many front-line health providers feel ground down by their work.

More on the Summit

For more details on what I saw, and which innovations I found especially interesting, here are my tweets from the day. You can also view the Summit’s agenda here. Many thanks again to the Aging 2.0 team for convening the summit, and for inviting me.

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