Connections Q&A: What Private Sector Innovations Are Most Needed?

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This Q & A first appeared on Stria News. Read the original there. 

In a climate of huge deficits and limited government funding, what private sector innovations are most needed to address the challenges of our aging society? Stria’s “Connections Q&A” series gathers perspectives from across the field on a single topic. Here, we asked Ai-Jen Poo of Caring Across Generations, Jennie Smith-Peers of NCCA, Stephen Johnston of Aging 2.0, Bob Kramer of NIC, and Gretchen Alkema of The SCAN Foundation to share their thoughts on how the private sector can best serve our aging society. Here’s what we heard.

Ai-Jen Poo, Executive Director of NDWA and Co-Director of Caring Across Generations
We need private sector innovation on two levels. First, creating comprehensive organizational policies to support family caregiving of employees, with the ability to track impact. These include paid family leave, subsidies for childcare and home care, caregiver benefits, and the like.

The other type of innovation has to do with design innovation focused on the user experience and quality of life of caregivers themselves. Whether in the professional context or the family context, caregiving is difficult work, and the undervaluing of the role of the caregiver has meant that we too often leave their expertise and insight on the table.

A “caregiver-centered” design approach would create tech and other innovations that improve the experience of caregiving, making it easier and more sustainable, adaptable to busy lives, as well as support caregivers to play more of a role in the context of a care team or care partnership.

Jennie Smith-Peers, Executive Director, National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA)
We need the private sector to expand the availability of transportation options to older Americans, who, for reasons of disability, income, or choice, do not drive themselves.

Stephen Johnston, Co-Founder of Aging2.0
I’m going to push back on the question! While we’re seeing many wonderful tech innovations from the private sector – smart jewelry and clothing, personal airbags, AI-powered care and friendly robots, among others – the biggest innovation that will help address the challenges is systematic collaboration between private and public sector.

This will unlock new business models that share risk between the health care payers and private sector innovators, new standards and platforms that share data among today’s fragmented and siloed operators, and most important seamless user experiences that tie it all together. Aging is about people not healthcare, and we need to take a people-first, holistic approach, which requires public-private collaboration.

Robert Kramer, Founder & Strategic Advisor of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care
The most critical need is to develop private sector affordable housing and long-term care options for middle income Boomers. Failing to do this will be an unsustainable burden on Medicaid and other social support programs for our elders. In addition to this challenge, other pressing needs that can change the future of aging include:
• Finding a cure or prevention for Alzheimer’s disease (government funding will need to be part of this)
• Providing safe and affordable driverless cars
• Further development of voice-first or voice-activated technologies for use by elders
• Further development of robotics to help address the labor shortage in long-term care and of social robotics to help address the sense of social isolation and loneliness

Finally, we need to rethink our concepts of aging and retirement and hopefully have the Boomers “retire” the second half of the twentieth century notion of “retirement.” We will need Boomers in the workforce and they will need to continue to feel they are contributing members of society.

Gretchen Alkema, Vice President of Policy & Communications for The SCAN Foundation
The private sector has unlimited potential today to innovate for older adults with daily living needs and their family caregivers. It can take action by employing age-friendly, person-centeredness into all aspects of product development and service delivery.

This design trend for better aging is already happening in small ways (e.g., compact carts at a grocery store) as well as larger changes (e.g., family size, gender neutral bathrooms in airports to help those traveling with a loved one needing hands-on assistance).

The private sector can accelerate the “aging and living well” movement by focusing its attention away from stereotypical, often negative ideas of aging and instead toward maximizing how people function every day.

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