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Focus On...Technology

December 1, 2005
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Technology Assist: The LTC Market's Cutting-Edge Demand by Helen Higgins, Kari Miner-Olson, Leo Asen, Sandra Elliott, Judy Girouard, and Jeanne Mattern, PhD, LSW, CCRP
focuson Technology

Technology assist: The LTC market's
cutting-edge demand

Helen Higgins, Kari Miner-Olson, Leo Asen, Sandra Elliott, Judy Girouard, and Jeanne Mattern, PhD, LSW, CCRP, provide a special report from a Center for Aging Services Technologies study of multicity focus groups. It is no secret that our nation's aging population is experiencing unprecedented growth as the baby boomers approach retirement. In less than 50 years the number of elderly will double. Just as the baby boomers have transformed every facet of life-from the growth of suburbia to the role of information and technology in day-to-day activities-it's a safe bet that they will continue to create waves of change in the way we retire, spend leisure time and, importantly, in the way we age and support aging.

As the boomers retire, the nation's social and healthcare support systems will feel increasing strain that will be relieved only when new products and technologies emerge from the collaborative efforts of government, industry, community-based aging service providers, and academia. As empowered consumers, the boomers will seek out alternatives to "get the job done," and those alternatives will surely include new and innovative uses for technology.

The Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) is a nonprofit program established in 2003 through the aegis of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. CAST's mission is to help unleash the potential of technology for innovative development that will reduce our nation's escalating healthcare costs. CAST uniquely blends providers of aging services, academic researchers, and industry representatives-all interested in advancing the role of technology as one way to address critical issues in eldercare.

CAST believes that we are fast approaching a tipping point in the development of home-based, consumer-centric healthcare technologies that will transform healthcare and social services delivery. The iPod's rapid growth and acceptance is one example of an older technology transformed and repackaged into a highly successful and easy-to-use consumer product with a robust support infrastructure. Similarly, CAST believes that once consumers accept the idea that healthcare services can be delivered in innovative and cost-effective ways, we will see many iPod-like success stories emerging to fill the inevitable demand of a very large market.

This is the market with which long-term care providers will be dealing. In fact, it already is, as boomers' parents enter CCRCs, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. Success in meeting new marketplace demands will determine the survival of many long-term care organizations. Because baby boomers, as tomorrow's seniors, will be the early adopters of new technologies and products, CAST wanted to hear their interests and opinions.

CAST commissioned a comprehensive literature review that only partially answered our questions, so we decided to launch a nationwide focus group effort, led by aging-services providers, to explore such questions as: How willing are boomers and "border retirees" (those nearing retirement) to use technology as aids in caring for their aged loved ones? Do boomers see a role for technology to help manage their own health and wellness? How can CAST and, in general, the long-term care marketplace help tap into the potential of technologic solutions?

To provide the broadest possible national results, CAST recruited border retirees from five cities in different geographic regions: Minneapolis, Dallas, Jacksonville, Seattle, and Hartford, Connecticut. We conducted ten focus groups with a total of 80 participants over a 19-day period during March 2005. Respondents were between 50 and 65 years old, with current experiences in assisting an older family member or other elder at home, and as users of one form of technology, typically a cell phone or personal computer. All participants completed a brief questionnaire to help us better understand their backgrounds and experiences. Questions focused on demographic information, current caregiving experiences (for example, offering elders help with paying bills or grocery shopping), and technology experiences (for example, using e-mail).

The session moderators explored the boomers' views of:
  • their concerns about aging;
  • as caregivers, what they see as the problem areas of aging;
  • how they plan to maintain their health as they age, and what they view as the long-term benefits from doing so; and
  • their willingness to share in the cost for new and innovative home-based technologies.
The moderators introduced a short video story depicting one family's use of technology to support an elderly relative. Some of these technologies focused on home safety by monitoring movement to detect falls, some provided reminders to take medication and to help avoid medication mishaps, other technologies provided tools to assist with activities of daily living, and some helped to combat isolation and improve quality of life. This vision-of-the-future video stimulated group discussion, creative thinking, and speculation about various in-home technologies that could ease current and future caregiving responsibilities. Three major concerns emerged from the groups: