Remember being 10, heading to Disneyland, (I grew up in Southern California but plug in your own favorite amusement park) and feeling your heart race waiting in line to get on the Matterhorn? Its harder to replicate those shots of exuberance and guilt free adrenaline as we get into our 50s. But that’s exactly how I felt entering the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month.
The show is a cacophony of technology innovations, solutions and guesses as to the future. And its insanely huge! Perhaps you’ve been to one of the larger senior living provider conferences, like Leading Age, AHCA and ALFA? In a good year upwards of 8,000 people will attend those shows. Try this on for size — at CES there are over 153,000 attendees and 3,100 exhibitors! The overall floor space exceeds the size of 37 football fields – yikes. My colleague Michael Gardner measured the distance he walked in four days at the show with a pedometer, logging 98,979 steps (49.5 miles).
The show touches everything. All kinds of insane new car designs (be alert for driverless cars!), innovations in audio and video technology, crazy robotics, new types of sensors for the home, virtual interactive gaming devices, preparing for the digital home of the future. And as you wander from booth to booth you meet everyone from the savvy sophisticated executives from world class conglomerates (Samsung, Sony, Phillips, Ford, etc) to the fledging entrepreneurs from remote places in China trying to change the world with their one idea. It’s a Kiplingesque integration of marketing sophistication side by side with hucksters you might meet at a state fair.
Each year I attend CES I look for the latest ways this paradise of technology and innovation is meandering its way into senior living, and aging in general. Part of the solutions are obvious, and the marketplace is catching up with the need. Integrating sensors into clothing to monitor vitals, smart homes of the future that learn an individual’s needs and send the appropriate signals wirelessly to other devices, integrating health and wellness into a person’s smart phone, etc, etc.
But what I really enjoy is finding nuggets of technology that contribute 100 percent to an older person’s (or disabled person’s) quality of life.
Two things I fell in love with are inexpensive, engaging, life changing devices. The first is a baseball cap — yes, a baseball cap! What’s so special about it? You put the hat on, and a small, undetectable wireless speaker embedded in the hat rests alongside your skull. Just wear your hat, and the sound from your phone or PC is conducted directly into your inner ear through vibration. My colleague, Lili Dwight, has not had hearing in one of her years for almost ten years and she texted me last week (with her hat on) saying for the first time in the last decade she could listen to music stereophonically. And the guy hawking it was awesome – Mike Freeman, the product developer. He was wildly exuberant, hands flailing away left and right as he tried to revolutionize the world one ear at a time.
The other device was a musical instrument called Beamz, a three-pronged instrument about the size of a 20” monitor. When you put your hands between the prongs of the device you break a laser beam that plays a specific musical instrument. A musical neophyte like me can be transformed into a concert pianist or a jazz guitarist depending on the background music you can seamlessly select. And it runs right off of your PC. What I love about it is that it is just as appropriate for a person far down the dementia path as it is for someone fiercely independent at 93, no skill necessary to apply!
I like to have my ideas verified by industry experts, so the week after CES I took both of these devices with me to the headquarters of Brookdale Senior Living in Tennessee. To my delight, they got it! Their staff enjoyed playing with the musical instrument, and fundamentally saw the benefit of the hat for the thousands of residents they serve with varying degrees of hearing loss. You should hear one of the their executive VP’s (Todd Kaestner) talk in detail about ambient decibels and background noises and how that can impact a residents quality of life. It’s the perfect storm to find organizations who look at technology as something above and beyond medical records and pill dispensing.
Another thing I like about CES is the mindset of commercialization and the appropriate price points. Over the years I’ve attending dozens of conferences dealing with various types of adaptive technology and software / hardware solutions. The problem with the price points is its great to see technologies that can change people’s lives, but if no one can afford them what’s the point? It’s a tough line to walk but the very definition of “consumer” electronics means you’re trying to reach the masses. That means the price points matter. The baseball cap, for example, will cost about $50 – $60. Think about that for next year’s Christmas gift for Grandpa!
My recommendation for any of you technophiles, or even technophobes, is to get CES on your bucket list. It’s a no lose proposition. You’ll find things that benefit yourself, benefit the elders many of you serve, benefit people you love, whether it be your grandkids or your mother-in-law. And you can instantly become hip to your own kids. Next year I’m bringing my 20-year-old son JP and my 18-year-old son Nathan. I figure they’ll be able to explain to me all of the things I can’t figure out.
The world is changing whether we like it or not and CES is a way to hop on the train and see which way the world is turning.