How do we make Aging as sexy as Global Warming?

The title of this blog post is one of the questions that I posed to the panel & the audience at the pre-conference workshop I ran for Health 2.0 in London on Sunday 17th November. [Note: credit to Victor Wang for coming up with the quote on Saturday]

Yesterday, Health 2.0, myself, and the participants of this workshop created history.

A bold claim, but look at the variety of Health IT, mHealth & Digital Health conferences around the world. How many run workshops which discuss old age and dying? Kudos to Matthew Holt and Pascal Lardier for being pioneers in making this happen. What I love about being involved with the Health 2.0 conferences is the genuine desire of the team to challenge the status quo. When the idea for this workshop was first discussed, the immediate response from Health 2.0 was not the all too common, "No, it's going to be too difficult", but "Yes, this is risky and uncharted territory, but let's give it a go". 

Where is everyone else?

The workshop was not perfect. We had no patients in the room, apart from Sarah Reed who delivered wonderful insights on behalf of older patients. We didn't have policy makers, the NHS, investors, the third sector, or designers in the room. We did use various channels to publicise the workshop, and I reached out to a number of entities that would have benefited from attending, but either no response or they were simply too busy. Perhaps they felt talking about old age & dying and how technology can help was a bit too radical for a Sunday afternoon? 

I started the workshop setting the scene in terms of Aging populations and the challenges & opportunities. You can see the slides below. The trends of Aging populations is a gradual one, and perhaps that's why it's often not number 1 priority on the minds of decision makers & politicians, who are often faced with short term pressures. Furthermore, many of us use words such as 'burden, 'cost' and 'problem' when describing citizens aged 65 years and up.

I say, older people must be embraced by society. Let's celebrate their existence. They offer life experience, wisdom & talents that could help so many of us, especially young people. In modern times, many of us, not just older people live lonely and isolated lives. A recent survey of GPs in the UK found that 1 in every 10 patients they see every day are coming to see the doctor because they are lonely. Naturally, that places pressure on already stretched services, but more importantly, what does that say about our society? 

Whilst technology can't necessarily reinvent our social fabric, some of the innovations shown at the workshop could be employed to allow older people to stay connected with others in society. 

A very intense and well received 3.5 hours with patient insights, 13 demos of innovative technologies and a 5 member panel discussion featuring Tobias StoneJanet JadavjiClive Bowman, Bart ColletBrenda Reginatto.

The demos were split into 3 sections;

Disease prevention & Disease Management

uMotif, Memory Lane Games, Advanced Balance Systems, SmartCitizen

Aging in Place

Fresh Idea Factory, Vivago, Intelesant, Zilta

Tools for Caregivers & Families

GeriJoy, Yecco, SpeakSet, Mindings, Breezie

Sarah Reed sharing insights from a patient's perspective

Sarah Reed sharing insights from a patient's perspective

Key learnings

  1. You can be successful at a global level without being based in Silicon Valley
  2. The importance of 'science driven' health startups
  3. Many startups in this arena are founded by people who have cared for an elderly relative
  4. We can't just treat older people as one big cohort and assume they all have the same needs
  5. Underlying technology doesn't need to be complex to be effective
  6. How can innovators & investors make money after developing these technologies?
  7. Who is actually going to pay for the innovation?

One or more of the startups who demonstrated their products at the workshop may well be a global name in future years. I left the workshop feeling hopeful, inspired and positive. I acknowledge that data & technology alone won't solve every issue faced by older people, health & social care professionals and their families & caregivers but it definitely has a role to play.

What next?

Even if you weren't at the workshop, and won't be attending Health 2.0 Europe, I encourage you, wherever in the world you are based, to discuss and debate, old age and dying. These conversations will be uncomfortable and frightening, and at times rather unpleasant, but we won't be able to move forward unless we act with courage. Each of you can (and hopefully will) play a part in making Aging as sexy as Global Warming.

[Disclosure: I have no commercial ties to any of the companies mentioned above, apart from Health 2.0, which I provide consulting services to from time to time]