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How People 50+ Will Live in the Near and Distant Future

Next Avenue looks ahead in honor of our 5th anniversary

By Shayla Thiel Stern
May 16, 2017

The future of the way people 50 and older live and learn will be increasingly more connected and networked — social networks, cloud-based networks and actual real-live human networks.

For Next Avenue’s fifth anniversary, we have decided to look to the future of aging in America, rather than look back over our past five years. For this article, we reached out to leaders and creative thinkers in areas covered in our Living & Learning channel to predict and imagine how we will live and learn in five years, 10 years and way, way down the road — the Jetsons prediction, as we've been calling it internally. (We’ve previously focused on forecasts for two other Next Avenue channels, Health & Well-Being and Money & Security.)

Since Living & Learning is a channel with a broad amount of content, I will focus on two of the more literal aspects of our channel: Living, as it relates to our homes and especially the role technology plays for older adults wherever they are living; and Learning, as it relates to trends in learning for people over 50. Today, I will focus on “Living” in the near and distant future and I will tackle “Learning” on Thursday.

In Five Years: Home Automation Advances

Scott Moody is the CEO and founder of K4Connect, a tech company that serves older adults and people with disabilities through software platforms that integrate devices, systems and applications into a single system that can work together and be managed as one form of application. Moody believes that in five years there will be a more seamless approach to accessing apps and managing household items — something we currently think about as the “Internet of Things” (IoT), or home automation.

“We’ve seen all these new ideas, products and applications coming out, but look: You can’t put 50,000 apps on your device and live a good life,” he said. "A lot of people talk about IoT and home automation, but it hasn’t really been successful.”

This is because the Internet of Things is not simple enough to use now. Companies like Moody's are working to overcome this.

“One reason is that I don’t think people have developed technologies that are easy and intuitive enough to use,” he said. “I always tell people technology is really only successful when you stop calling it technology.” Moody’s previous company developed the technology that later became the touch ID on the iPhone, which he noted is “so easy that you don’t even know that you are using technology.”

In a perfect IoT system, an older person could stand up in the middle of the night and a light would automatically turn on and potentially prevent a fall. Or if the person missed taking a medication, an alert would come over his or her in-house stereo system. Moody's company is working to assure that doorbells, door locks, motion sensors, streaming music, blood pressure monitors and pill reminders, as well as video chat and photo sharing, are automated through a central platform that can be controlled by a user’s smartphone or tablet.

When a more seamless system can be put into place — one that is attached to users’ mobile phones and tablets with the apps that they are already using — then we will see more and better home automation, Moody predicts.

When will people’s homes be connected to their devices in this way? That is “definitely coming,” he said, “but is it a few years? Is it five? It might be a little bit more” for a majority of older adults to be able to have such systems involved in their homes or retirement communities.

“It has to be an open system — a very open system, in my opinion — and not this monstrosity of individual things to make home automation really work,” Moody added. “New products and new ideas will have to be able to come out without a complete revamp of a whole system.”

However, Moody points out, we may see an important consideration with older adults in 10 years: income-level changes.

In 10 Years: Tech for (not Adapted to) an Aging Population

Americans in the next decade likely will retire with far less savings than their parents did. “The fact of the matter is the population we serve is, in fact, going to be very financially challenged in the future,” Moody said. “People today have pensions and insurance programs, but now people are retiring with maybe $25,000 in a 401(k). It’s going to be financially challenging for them.”

Because of this, tech-based systems for living will have to become not only more seamless, but also more affordable.

Unlike many people, who imagine a near future filled with robots helping with household tasks and caregiving, Moody said the lack of humanity (and affordability) of robots makes him believe they will be less prevalent than some predict.

Additionally, Moody hopes that technological development will skew to being created with older adults in mind. “All these products are coming out every day and some of them are pretty neat. They’re all being designed for 25-year-olds, not the people we serve," he said. "Then someone slaps a bigger font on it and says they’ve adapted it for 90-year-olds."

Noting that K4 is already designing to future-fit the technology of the coming decade, Moody said he sees technology as a tool that can help older adults live the way they want, in the place that they want, for as long as they can.


In a recent essay posted on Next Avenue, Joseph F. Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, warned against conflating growing older with health issues, which he said will be an especially important distinction to make for developers and inventors seeking to make innovations in the way we live as we age. "Older people, especially the oldest among us, are more likely to suffer from multiple chronic conditions and require significant care," Coughlin wrote. "But while this may be the story for some older adults, illness and older age are not equivalents. And even elderly patients managing chronic disease want to do things that do not involve their ‘conditions’."

Moody agreed, noting that as a boomer himself, he was especially sensitive to tech innovators treating older people like patients as they consider design.

“Too many people look at you when you turn 65 like you’re a patient and they want to tell you what to do,” he said. “At the end of the day, we all want purpose, and sometimes that purpose is the ability to take some level of care of myself. That whole idea of providing technology so I can live the life I want — that’s what I really want. “

Jetsons Predictions: The Future Is Now

The Jetsons, you'll recall, lived in a flying saucer-like apartment building on the tallest stilts you’ve seen, accessible only by space car or jetpack, with a robotic maid and cool contraptions like smartwatches and 3D printers for food that actually exist today.

This is not unlike the home automation future described by Moody, so I’m inclined to provide a roundup of a few homes of the future that seem even more out there:

3D printed houses (that can be finished in 8 hours)

Homes with appliances that can look, speak and teach like humans

‘Smart threads’ that can allow fabric on your furniture to change color instantly and frequently

Homes equipped with virtual reality as a means of helping with dementia or distracting from pain

On Thursday, Next Avenue will explore the Learning part of the future of Living & Learning for people over 50.

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Shayla Thiel Sternis the former Director of Editorial and Content for Next Avenue at Twin Cities PBS. Read More
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