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Envisioning the Future of Senior Living Communities: Emerging Technology

An Interview with Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio of the the MIT AgeLab
Envisioning the Future of Senior Living Communities: Emerging Technology

Earlier this year Hebrew SeniorLife Communities sponsored the “Senior Living Communities of the Future Forum” at NewBridge on the Charles as an opportunity for our residents’ adult children to hear from experts in their fields on the future of senior living communities.

We sought insights to some of their most significant concerns as they relate to aging as well as important questions about their vision of the life they want to lead in later years.

Our “Senior Living Communities of the Future Forum” panel included Martin Siefering, AIA, Principal, Architect Perkins Eastman Architecture; Dr. Lisa D'Ambrosio, Social Research Scientist, MIT AgeLab; and Dr. Robert Schreiber, Medical Director, Evidenced based Programs at Hebrew SeniorLife, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and internist.

This is the third and final Q&A in our blog series.

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio is a Research Scientist at MIT AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is currently researching the social aspects of aging and what this population will need to enhance and improve quality of life and to enable older adults to live independently longer.

Q: How will emerging technologies help support seniors who want to live independently?

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio: Emerging smart technologies will be game changing tools that will help us live independently longer in our homes. At the MIT Age Lab, we’re engaged in a number of projects researching these technologies and we’re currently getting ready to field test many of them with consumers and professionals to determine their ability to help people age in place.

Q: What are some real world examples of this?

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio: Technologies like web cameras throughout the home to communicate with family and friends, or sensors that communicate when someone has fallen, and connected to your smart phone if necessary. For example, a motion-activated camera in your kitchen will open when your mother or grandmother walks into her kitchen to make her morning coffee. You’ll see for yourself that she’s up and moving and how she’s looking.

Q: How will this impact family relationships?

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio: Connections with both caregivers and other family members will still be vitally important. I think families are going to feel more confident having a loved one live independently if they’re reassured that if there’s a problem, technology will help them respond to it faster. This can make a big difference for both families and individuals in feeling more confident in their ability to age in place. They know that if they need help they’re going to get it.

Q: What technology-enabled services are improving the lives of seniors now?

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio: The Smartphone is fantastic and a great tool. With the rise of services like Uber for transportation or Blue Apron for cooking meals, our phones can bring these and other types of services right to our homes. The MIT Age Lab has researched how Smartphone technology could enable a whole host of shared economy services for seniors in the future.

Q: What is the cost of utilizing these future technologies in the home vs. living in a supported community?

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio: When one compares the cost of these on-demand services that technology makes possible, compared to the costs to live in a senior community, the costs appear to be lower. The growth of these services and this segment of the economy may support living at home longer. Perhaps this will mean that senior living communities of the future may be less than full-time living models and more a digitally connected model that links people and their own bundle of support services. This may also make it easier for family members to be involved in the coordination of care.

Q: When will these technologies take hold on a mass-market scale?

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio: As the over 65 segment of the economy continues to grow, these technologies will become more widely available. Many are currently in development to improve quality and reliability in anticipation of the coming wave of market demand. This is true for the driverless car, which will be on the roads in just a few years.

Q: So how do we weigh the benefits of these technologies with all of the disadvantages of the possible social isolation they may bring?

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio: While a lot of these technologies will enable people to live independently in their homes longer, it’s not evident that they are necessarily going to provide those human connections that are so important for people, or that they’ll substitute at all for a sense of purpose in life.

People today need to proactively plan for their years ahead so that they have choices and control over their decision of what type of community they want to live in. You have time to think about what you value and can make a decision that supports your values. It’s incredibly important for individuals to exercise this control over their future wherever possible and then your family members can better support you in the life you want to lead.

This was the third and final blog in our CCRCs of the Future blog series. Read part I and part II.

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