• Thu. Sep 22nd, 2022

Technology making it possible for seniors to age in place – The Pantagraph


Sep 19, 2022

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Pam Washburn looks on as her husband, Mel, uses his phone in their Lincoln Park apartment on Sept. 7, 2022.
CHICAGO – Mel Washburn is a former firefighter, professor and litigation attorney. Whether fighting fires in a building, a classroom, or the courtroom, he realized once he retired that 90% of his social life had revolved around work.
Washburn, 77, knew he needed to find a way to build a social network in retirement. Washburn also knew that he and his wife, Pam, 75, wanted to continue living independently in their own home.
He quickly learned that technology could play a vital role in accomplishing both goals.
Early members of The Village Chicago, a membership-based organization whose purpose is to connect and improve the quality of life of Chicagoans over 50, the Washburns now socialize through both in-person and Zoom events. And they rely on technology to maintain a safe environment at home.
The Washburns are part of a growing demographic. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2050 more than 2 billion people will be 60 and older. The United States is also changing. According to Rodney Harrell, vice president of family, home and community for AARP, “In 2034, we will have more folks over 50 than under 18 for the first time.” Illinois, where 16.6% of folks are 65 and older, is no exception.
Mel Washburn works on his computer at home on Sept. 7, 2022.
“A vast majority of folks want to stay in their home as they age,” Harrell said. And technology, increasingly, is making that possible, from touchless faucets to voice-controlled lights.
However, as Harrell points out, only 1% of homes have features that folks need to age in place.
Felice Eckhouse, founder of Elderspaces, a Chicago business that helps clients design and modify homes so that they can age in place, attributes this gap to designs that haven’t adapted much since World War II. “It’s a ying yang that’s out of whack. We need a space we’re not retrofitting before you can get to the gadgets,” Eckhouse said.
But Harrell sees potential for technology to bridge some of this gap. “What we (at AARP) focus on are the changes that can be made in the home regardless of medical conditions. Technology can’t do everything but plays an amazing role,” he said.
Even in the home, Eckhouse said, “The smartphone is the driver behind a lot of digital resources, from hearing aids to security systems, lighting systems, door entry, to appliances in the kitchen.”
Smartphones also offer basic help with everyday tasks and communication.
“I still use technology in all the normal ways. If I need to look up something, I look it up online,” Mel Washburn said. “I would have a severe case of boredom without my phone: news, books, calling people.”
His wife, Pam, who lives with multiple sclerosis, relies heavily on her smartphone as a daily communication tool.
Identifying tech solutions for folks who live in an ill-suited home may feel like a chicken-and-egg problem. This is because a lot of technology demands high-speed internet, which is not universal, notes Laurie Orlov, principal analyst for Aging and Health Technology Watch, an industry research firm.
Once internet service is place, however, Orlov said a vast range of options, such as voice-based technologies, motion-detecting cameras and sensors can be used “for predictive analytics to identify a potential problem and make the world as safe as possible.”
But not everyone is tech savvy.
Mel Washburn looks over his schedule on his computer at home on Sept. 7, 2022.
Mel Washburn remembers dictaphones and secretary pools, but he also experienced evolving technology over 28 years as a partner in a large law firm. Not everyone is as comfortable embracing new devices.
Orlov disputes the common misconception that baby boomers are more at ease with technology than their previous generation. Although they develop some comfort, baby boomers want to keep what they have, while the tech industry forces change. Phones are a prime example.
“Most people aren’t updating their phones as fast as the updates are coming,” Orlov said. Eventually, this leads to disabled, older devices, like phones that worked on 3G networks but no longer run on 5G. As a result, “Baby boomers will be just as frustrated (as the generation before),” she said.
Still, whether it’s free tablets through an Illinois Department of Aging program or using Zoom for The Village Chicago’s movie club, technology can support seniors aging in place in a number of different ways.
“Tech can be a potential great enhancer of the features in homes and address some of the gaps,” Harrell said. Tech doesn’t end with touchless faucets, activity monitors and voice-controlled lights to address low-vision issues and prevent falls. “There’s a burgeoning tech in sensors that understand behaviors, such as when someone has gotten out of bed,” Harrell said.
Even Alexa can be used for more than turning on lights, notes Jim Rosenthal, CEO of Caring.com, a free information resource for seniors and their families. “It can be taken much farther to cameras, microphones and the ability to see everything that’s going on to know that a parent is fine.”
Technology doesn’t have to be complicated, either. Patricia Greenberg, owner of The Fitness Gourmet and author of the book “Eat Well, Live Well, Age Well,” said she loves apps like Noom and MyFitnessPal that help seniors track their personal nutrition and exercise routines. These are simply another way technology can help seniors maintain healthy, independent lives.
Sorting through all of the apps and technologies available can be dizzying, but organizations like Village Chicago can help. And resources like AARP, Caring.com and the Illinois Assistive Technology Program, which provides free information and help with technology, offer critical information. For Illinois residents, the Illinois Department of Aging offers a senior help line (1-800-252-8966).
Amy Lulich, senior policy adviser at the Illinois Department of Aging, says, “This help line is not only where someone can get an assessment of what they might need to continue living in their home, but also learn what assistance they may be eligible to receive.”
This might include Illinois Care Connections, which provides free iPads, tablets and Wi-Fi hot spots for qualifying individuals, through the Illinois Assistive Technology Program. The IATP also runs other programs and demonstrations of assisted technology. Because public programs like the assistive technology program may be restricted in who they can serve, the Illinois Senior Help Line is a useful starting point.
What works for one person may not work for another. In some cases, “technology isn’t always the best solution,” said Rosenthal, of Caring.com.
“The problem we face now,” according to Willie Gunther, IATP’s executive director, “is that seniors need to be educated on what’s possible and as soon as possible before it becomes an emergency.”
Americans are a growing client base, helping to fill gaps left by wealthy Russians who aren’t traveling as much due to restrictions following the invasion of Ukraine. And it’s not just the likes of Elon Musk or Beyonce and Jay-Z hiring out these glitzy floating palaces. Fischer-Rosenthal said a couple from the U.S. enjoyed their cruise in Greece and Turkey in July so much they booked another in Italy shortly after and invited friends along.
Fraser Yachts, which sells and manages superyachts as well as arranging charters, booked nearly 500 private trips in the first half of 2022, according to Director of Marketing and Business Development Mark Duncan. Bookings are up 32% from last year, and again most of the growth is being driven by Americans, many of whom are renting for the first time, said Duncan, who is based in Monaco. Among the megayachts the company hires out is Wheels, a 75-meter (247 foot) vessel with a gym and nightclub.
The number of Americans with a net worth of between $1 million and $5 million grew 8% in 2021 to more than 12 million households, while those worth $25 million or more climbed 18%, according to research firm Spectrem Group.
“Our clients are high-net worth individuals, running banks and hedge funds,” Fischer-Rosenthal said. “They’ve made a lot of money in the last few years. Now they want to travel again and they want the best.”
Customers are also getting younger, now averaging in their 50s rather than the 60-65 age bracket in the last two decades, Duncan said. This year, about 35% of Fraser’s clients are new to yachting, compared with up to 15% previously, he said. Cruises involving several generations from the same family are also more popular.
“During the pandemic, people couldn’t be with their families,” Duncan said. “Yachts can be big enough for all to be together. Unlike a home, you’re not stuck in one place. And you can control the environment and test everyone for Covid if that’s a concern.”
The trend of families and friends traveling together is spurring demand for bigger superyachts. Monaco-based Camper & Nicholsons International Ltd. is seeing highest demand in the 50-60-meter range, said Jacqui Lockhart, Europe head of charter management.
“They often know exactly what they want — a big yacht that’s less than three years old,” said Lockhart, adding that the company’s overall bookings are up as much as 30% this year. “They know the style of yacht they want, from which shipbuilder even.”
One of the world’s most expensive superyachts, available for charter through Camper & Nicholsons, is the 126-meter Octopus, which counts among its features two helipads, an elevator and basketball court.
Previously owned by the late Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, Octopus costs from $2.2 million a week to rent. As many as 42 crew are on board to cater to a maximum of 12 guests. It is booked for three weeks in Antarctica this winter and Camper & Nicholsons said it is already fielding requests for monthlong excursions next summer in the Mediterranean.
There are about 3,100 private yachts available for charter globally, according to Fraser’s Duncan, but the number of superyachts has dipped as sanctions on Russia removed some from the market. One of those, the 72-meter Axioma, was owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Pumpyansky and had been listed for charter for about $632,000 a week in peak summer. It was seized at the start of the war in Ukraine and put up for sale at public auction in August.
There is also more scrutiny on private rentals.
“Clients are asking about the yachts and the ownership,” said Alexandru Zamfirescu, an independent yacht broker based in Monaco. “They want to steer away from any trouble.”
Still, business is good and brokers are focused on getting clients onto boats, advising them to book within days of getting a quote. There’s usually no negotiation with owners on prices.
“Luxury yachting is thriving,” Zamfirescu said.

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Pam Washburn looks on as her husband, Mel, uses his phone in their Lincoln Park apartment on Sept. 7, 2022.
Mel Washburn works on his computer at home on Sept. 7, 2022.
Mel Washburn looks over his schedule on his computer at home on Sept. 7, 2022.
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