A few days ago, I came up against one of the toughest interview questions I’ve heard regarding the aging industry. Carol Marak, the editor of SeniorCare.com asked me: “After thirty years in the aging industry, what one area has made the most progress? And what area has made the least progress?”
Great question. (It’s actually two questions, making it twice as hard to answer.) I had trouble coming up with a single response. I’ve seen so many changes over the years. It’s hard to pick just one.
For starters, there was a substantial shift in all aspects of the Long Term Care or Nursing Home industry, even in nursing home marketing. When I started out, nursing homes were institutional – a place to live out your final days. Today, the model has progressed to rehabilitation centers – places where patients get treatment and return home.
Is that the one area that’s made the most progress? Hard to say. What about the new handicapped accessibility codes? Before these codes came to Illinois in 1997, there were few required handicapped spots, accessible bathrooms, and curb ramps. The new regulations made life easier for many seniors.
There are many more examples of progress. But in the end, the answer I chose as the single most important one, is the rise of digital technology. You can view my responses and interview on YouTube.
Granted, the majority of seniors are typically not all that tech savvy. Many don’t own a Smartphone. But technology is making life better for seniors in countless ways. Let’s take a look.
1. The Internet has made it possible to access health information across the globe.
2. Health Tracking lets doctors watch vital signs from far away. Patients can wear a heart monitor and live at home.
3. GPS Systems take home safety to a new level. Some systems will detect if a person has fallen, and will prompt someone to call 911.
4. Skype and Facetime help seniors keep in touch with friends, family, and grandchildren. No more once a week calls. Often there are check-ins several times a day.
5. Uber and Lyft provide seniors and their caregivers with a convenient new transportation option.
6. Brain Fitness and other Internet-based programs and apps help with brain health.
7. Audio books give visually-impaired people access to almost any book at the tap of a button.
Technology has brought the most dramatic changes to our industry, hands down.
But there’s still the issue of the second half of Carol’s question: which area has made the least progress in our industry?
Well, there’s the housing issue. And there’s the issue of sheer numbers: exploding populations of baby boomers turning into senior citizens. And let’s not forget the serious health issues, where cures don’t seem to come fast enough.
Take Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Not nearly enough progress has been made in these areas. The number of Americans with dementia is increasing at a rapid pace.
So that’s my answer: In my opinion, more progress in the aging industry is needed in the area of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Consider what the Alzheimer’s Association reports in 2016:
1. One in three seniors will die of a form of dementia.
2. More than 5 million people are living with dementia.
3. Dementia kills more people than prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.
4. One in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease.
If this is depressing you, hang on, it’s not all doom and gloom. New drugs slow down the disease. Researchers have a better understanding every day. Some evidence shows that genetic testing predicts dementia. This can lead to earlier, proactive treatments.
There is cause for hope. But that said, we’ve had nowhere NEAR the progress we needed on this issue over the past thirty years. Hopefully, new treatment breakthroughs are just around the corner.
Let’s end on a positive note. What one area do YOU think has made the most progress in the aging industry?