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By Issie Lapowsky July 12,2015

Technology and the elderly go together like peas and guacamole, which is of course to say, they don’t go together at all. At least, that’s what you might think if you’ve ever tried to teach your mom or dad to use an iPhone.

So it’s no surprise that in its attempts to manage the ballooning aging population in America, the government hasn’t often relied on tech tools as its first line of defense. Now, that’s starting to change. This week, the White House is kicking off its Conference on Aging, the once-a-decade gathering that has given birth to landmark government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. On Tuesday, the White House Council of Advisors on Science and Technology will also meet to discuss the pressing issue of aging. In both cases, the government has invited technologists to the table, in hopes of finding new ways to scale senior care, without sacrificing on quality.

Seth Sternberg believes his company might be able to help.

Sternberg is the founder and CEO of Honor, an Andreessen Horowitz-backed start-up that helps seniors find home health aids through an online marketplace, and this week, Sternberg will be in D.C. presenting his thoughts on how technology can make it easier for people to age independently. The conversation coincides with Honor’s public launch in the Bay Area today, as well as the announcement that the company plans to donate $1 million in free care to seniors in 10 different cities.

Honor’s goal, says Sternberg, is to ensure that the next generation of aging Americans—a generation that, thanks to baby boomers, will be unprecedented in size—will be able to grow old without leaving their homes. To do that, Honor is trying to improve the quality of care in the industry by increasing care professionals’ wages and using technology to make the process of selecting and working with one of these caretakers as transparent as possible. Its mobile platform alerts family members when caretakers are coming and going, and the company has even redesigned the interface of the tablet they give to seniors that allows them to rate their care professionals on a daily basis.

“There’s been this problem where we have not as an industry invested in innovation around products for seniors, because people are scared that innovation comes from technology, and seniors and technology don’t mix,” Sternberg says. “I think there are a lot of misperceptions that can be cleared up. The market is massive and the opportunity is huge.”

The Lower Cost of Staying Home

The concept of using technology to help people age in place has become a focal point for the U.S. government, says Valerie Steinmetz, program director of the Center for Technology and Aging.

“I think the government is mirroring society in general,” Steinmetz says. After spending the last decade evangelizing the promise of technologies like telehealth for the aging demographic, Steinmetz says it’s only over the last year or so that she’s begun to see these technologies really talk off. “People are starting to believe in it and test it out for themselves, and the government is following right in line with these innovations.”

Of course, it also has a lot to do with cost. Evidence has been mounting for years that technology that allows people to age in place can actually have a substantial impact on reducing the cost of care for seniors, because it leads to more frequent monitoring. And, with the ever growing demand for a reduction in Medicare spending, that evidence is becoming more and more compelling to government agencies.

Just last month, the United States Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing in which a panel of researchers laid out all the ways that tech tools could help prevent things like falls, which disproportionately impact people over 75 and which cost billions of dollars to treat each year. Medicaid also recently reported the results of a year-long study that showed house calls can reduce the cost of care for frail seniors by an average of $3,070 per beneficiary. But Steinmetz says the real thought leader in this space has been the Veteran’s Administration, which has successfully run a telehealth program for veterans for more than a decade. One VA study showed that this technology has led to a 35 percent reduction in hospital readmission and a 59 percent reduction in “bed-days.”

“The government has looked at these programs and sees that they’ve been able to reduce costs, specifically in the medicare population, and says, ‘Let’s look at this further,’” Steinmetz says.

In-Home Care for All

She also sees an increasing willingness by the government to reimburse seniors for home care professionals, like the ones Honor provides, and that’s critical, says Sternberg. “If you look at the pricing structure for home care, by and large, it’s out of pocket, and the only way government helps is if you’re on Medicaid,” he says. “I’d really love to see us create a system through Medicare, where in-home care is proactively provided to people.”

Of course, technology alone can’t fix the massive shortage of home health aids that the country is already facing. This may be the biggest obstacle to Honor’s ability to scale, particularly given that the company only accepts about 5 percent of applicants for these jobs. But Sternberg is hoping that as both tech companies and the government continue to invest more in this space, jobs caring for seniors will become more desirable.

“These people are now considered unskilled labor, but they’re doing something critical for society,” Sternberg says. “We’re trying to make being a care professional a true career path for people.

“There’s been this problem where we have not as an industry invested in innovation around products for seniors, because people are scared that innovation comes from technology, and seniors and technology don’t mix,” Sternberg says. “I think there are a lot of misperceptions that can be cleared up. The market is massive and the opportunity is huge.”

‘Sandwich generation’ worries about own care as they age

By Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press | July 10, 2015

WASHINGTON — Caught between kids and aging parents, the sandwich generation worries more than most Americans their age about how they’ll afford their own care as they grow older, a new poll shows. But most aren’t doing much to get ready.

Nearly 1 in 10 people age 40 and over are “sandwiched” — they’re supporting a child while providing regular care for an older loved one, according to the poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Another 8 per cent may join the ranks of double-caregivers in the next five years, citing declining health of an older relative or close friend.

Dueling responsibilities can make some days feel like a tug-of-war.

“If my mom needs something badly, I get pulled away from my kids a lot,” said Kamila Al-Najjar of Santa Rosa, California, a lawyer with two children and self-described health advocate for her mother. She visits her mother’s assisted living facility at least twice a week and checks in daily by phone, to oversee a list of illnesses.

“You’re dealing with someone who is aging, toward the end of their life; then you have to deal with a teenager. I hear from my mom and daughter that I’m a nag. There’s no winning in it,” she said.

Adding to the challenge, 40- and 50-somethings tend to be at the height of their careers — and need to hang onto their jobs despite difficulties of caregiving, said Susan Reinhard, who directs AARP’s Public Policy Institute. Employer flexibility is a top issue as the population ages, she said.

“It’s not just their own financial security, it’s the financial security for their children and for the future,” Reinhard said.

After age 65, government figures show nearly 7 in 10 Americans at some point will need long-term care — from a relative, home aide, assisted living or nursing home.

Yet the AP-NORC Center poll found overall, most Americans 40 and older — 54 per cent — have done little or no planning to get ready for this often pricey reality. Only a third reports setting aside money for those needs. That’s even though Medicare doesn’t pay for the most common types of long-term care, and a nursing home can cost more than $90,000 a year.

Drill down to the 9 per cent of this age group who make up the sandwich generation, and their experience leaves them far more concerned about their own senior years.

About half worry about being able to pay for their future care needs or having to move into a nursing home, compared with just over a third of other adults, the poll found. Also, 44 per cent of sandwichers fear leaving debts to family, compared with 28 per cent of others polled.

But the poll found the sandwich generation no more likely than other middle-aged adults to be planning and saving, possibly because of time or resources.

Al-Najjar is glad her mother “saved all her life … so she didn’t have to stress out about stuff like that.” Caring for her has changed how she spends and plans for the future.

“It’s like a wake-up call,” she said. There are “a lot of seniors in the United States that don’t have that money.”

The squeeze isn’t ending as children grow up. Among currently sandwiched parents, 29 per cent have adult children living at home, the poll found; others are providing adult children with financial assistance, meaning some are sandwiched even after their children leave the nest.

Another challenge: Finding services to help seniors live out their days at home. AARP recently opened an online “livability index” to rank communities on such factors as accessible housing and transit options.

And the National Association for Area Agencies on Aging runs an Eldercare Locator to help people find local resources. Last year, the locator averaged more than 22,000 requests for assistance a month. A recent report found the top needs: transportation, mostly to get to doctor appointments; in-home services, such as meals and personal care; and finding affordable housing or making age-friendly home modifications.

“People don’t generally make these calls until they’re in crisis,” said association CEO Sandy Markwood. “If mom and dad need this as they get older, you should prepare for that, too.”

Carroll Burnett of Whitesboro, Texas, cared for his 88-year-old father, who’d suffered a stroke, for a year before he died in March.

“I felt good that I could take care of him,” said Burnett, a retired tool and die maker who had help from his wife and one of his three grown children. But he’s saving up: “I don’t want any of my kids to go through what I did.”

The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted by telephone April 7 to May 15 among a random national sample of 1,735 adults age 40 or older, with funding from the SCAN Foundation. Results for the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

Associated Press writer Stacey A. Anderson and AP news survey specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.