Today, I was part of an e-mail conversation about America’s aging Baby Boomer population and the question of how to keep these individuals mobile as their faculties fade. Ironically, the independence many of them now experience is largely due to the dependence they’ve come to have on the automobile. But, when age takes its toll and eyesight is lost, hearing is muted, and reaction time is slowed, driver’s licenses will be taken away and with it, a person’s sense of freedom. It seems that in order to maintain their level of mobility, Baby Boomers will either have to move to places where public transit is good (currently, most live in transit-poor suburbs) or the suburbs themselves will have to adapt to their aging populations’ needs. Without knowing which of these two cases will play out, I thought this conversation presented an opportunity to highlight, keeping in mind the demands of an aging population, some of the mobility-related innovations that Living Labs has covered in its Showcase.
The first that I note is called BrailleScreen, a solution for the blind to ensure they also benefit from all the new open information available on digital screens. Through proprietary technology, they’ve produced an actual computer screen that allows blind users to feel computer screens rather than just read them. Tactile Response, Inc.’s target market includes travelers in transportation centers and anyone navigating in cities or urban areas. This could be ideal for the Baby Boomer population that decides to make the move from the suburbs to more service-dense areas.
Another interesting technology is called e-Adept, a solution created by a company in Sweden to increase the mobility of the disabled and elderly. It works primarily using GPS technology, however it is unique in that its digitized road maps are for pedestrians and cyclists rather than automobiles (think sidewalks and paths vs. streets). Again, this would be great for that aging Baby Boomer population in cities. Potentially, it could be useful also in suburbs or rural areas, however I bet the distances one would have to walk in such areas are often prohibitive enough even for a young, healthy person.
Healthy E-World treats more of the symptom (loneliness, isolation) than the problem (lack of mobility), but it could be useful for home-bound seniors in suburbs or those who’ve moved to a city to be closer to services and end up far from loved ones. It’s essentially a video chat technology that is unassuming and senior-friendly. As an added perk, the system also doubles as a healthcare supplement by integrating remote health monitoring.
Admittedly, most of the solutions we have Showcased would help those who move into an urban area when they enter that last stage of life (they are geared more towards these locations), and they leave a lot to be desired for those who stay elsewhere. At this stage, it is hard to plan for that unknown future – will they stay or will they go? But, something to start thinking about is how to update the transportation technology in those suburbs.
My hope is that it’s something like the proliferation of mobile technology in developing countries. Why not skip all the other infrastructure development – the laying of streetcar tracks, the emergence of buses and removal of trains, the mess that has ensued due to a patch-worked system – and instead use the suburbs as the canvas for tomorrow’s best in transportation?