By John Fredette, Corporate Communications, Alcatel-Lucent
Over the past several months I have been working with colleagues from Alcatel-Lucent’s Market and Customer Insight team on a project which addresses seven multifaceted global megatrends that impact our lives called “Megatrends: a wave of change impacting the future”. The megatrends are specifically related to the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry and range from discussing the phenomenon of being connected 7×24 to the necessity of sustainability to the blurring of urban and rural boundaries thanks to the ability to be “connected” globally anywhere.
“Rejuvenaging”, is the megatrend that impacts the largest number of people. Thanks to a myriad of scientific and medical advances people are living significantly longer lives than ever before. This phenomenon raises significant questions in terms of what life will be like for an ever expanding aging population. And let’s face it; given the alternative, we all hope to eventually be part of an elderly population. That is if we can be healthy and active and lead interesting and engaged lives into our 90s or even beyond. Unfortunately that is not the only possible outcome.
This megatrend encompasses a range of issues including the vastly different life experiences between elders who are active and those who face debilitating diseases; how ICT-based tools can help provide distance health care as well as potentially life-saving monitoring services; how technology impacts the lives of the elderly; how the aging population is gaining political power along with growing numbers which will impact society etc.
A voice of experience
For direct input on this topic I decided to follow the ancient method of looking to an elder for insight and wisdom.
My friend Lorraine is 86. After she raised her family she went back to school and got a PhD in gerontology. She worked for the American Association of Retired People until she was 72 when, because her mother needed more care and following the death of her husband, Lorraine thought it was an appropriate time to move closer to her family in Durham, North Carolina.
In North Carolina Lorraine married again and her husband Jim faced the uncommon prospect that along with his 75-year-old bride he was also gaining a mother-in-law. Lorraine’s remarkable mother, Agnes, passed away at the age of 102. After 10 happy years together Jim passed away at the age of 90. Two years ago, following a couple of serious falls, Lorraine’s family asked her to move to a continuing care facility. She readily agreed and now has a comfortable small apartment within a supportive senior community.
Because of her own life experience and professional training Lorraine has many interesting insights on the topic of rejuvenaging. She told me that when she was working on her PhD in the 1970s, it was accepted that life was lived in a set progression of three worlds, the world of education, the world of work and the world of retirement.
Clearly that is no longer the case. Education is no longer relegated to the beginning of life but rather has become a life-long experience. Lorraine has observed people cycle through retirement, education, new career and then back to retirement again. Her own cycle has included education, motherhood, professional career, and caregiver but not necessarily in that order. Throughout her life education has remained a constant. In fact, we met through a continuing education course. This fall Lorraine will take five continuing education courses from Duke University, her alma mater. Her courses help to keep her mind engaged in new areas and she believes that people who aren’t gaining new experiences are just waiting for death.
You’re never too old for an iPad
As with many of her contemporaries, technology is a part of Lorraine’s life but does not dominate it. Lorraine has cable TV, broadband access, a PC, an iPad and an iPhone. She recently has been receiving private lessons for using her iPad. She met her tutor when the woman made a presentation to members of Lorraine’s community. The audience was asked how many of them had been given iPads for Christmas and the majority raised their hands.
It takes an effort for Lorraine’s generation to learn new technology but they appreciate what it offers. Many people in Lorraine’s community use video calling. Her sister Barbara has video chats with her daughter in Brazil who is battling cancer. Barbara likes to see how her daughter is coping with her illness and not just hear what she says about it. Barbara’s husband Bill used a phone connection to monitor and adjust his pacemaker without having to go to his doctor’s office.
Lorraine’s community provides every resident with ready access to assistance if it is needed. Residents wear pendants or bracelets with wireless alarm buttons and their bathrooms and other rooms are equipped with buttons to summon help. Such types of electronic monitoring can be reassuring both to the residents and those who love them.
As a trained gerontologist Lorraine looks at her current station in life with a greater objectivity than most. She readily acknowledges that death does not seem far away and despite all the technological changes around us that is the one absolute no one can escape.
Lorraine’s objectivity did not surprise me. I have always known her to be a very sensible woman. What I had not experienced before in all the years I have known her was the passion with which she spoke of the various aspects of aging. I realized that although she retired years ago, Lorraine is still a “practicing” gerontologist, observing people as they get older and helping them along the way as best she can. She notes that in living with other people who are at the same stage of life there is a kindness that pervades all the interactions of her community.
A never-ending passion for living
My discussion with Lorraine brought several valuable insights related to rejuvenaging. For me, the most important is that maintaining a passion for something keeps people engaged with life. Life is not a straight progression to retirement but rather a continuous process of change and education creating a series of careers some of which earn incomes and some do not. Distance learning, as well as the opportunity for participating in virtual groups, are two areas where technology can enable engagement with life. While technology can be a great aid to quality of life at any age it also must be age appropriate. This is perhaps the most relevant insight for the ICT industry. How can communication devices and data access be designed so that they are readily useable by people whose minds remain nimble but whose bodies begin to betray them in various ways? While there are a wide range of monitoring capabilities available to keep tabs on the health and well being of people there are no doubt more opportunities to be even less obtrusive and more immediately and automatically responsive when a person’s condition changes negatively.
The content of the Rejuvenaging chapter was a starting point for a conversation that has led me to thinking about the subject in unexpected ways. I believe all of the megatrends described can have that impact and I recommend investigating them for yourself.
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