Of course this is a good question. If we show how Aging in Place is like UBER we should get energy and investment behind aging in place because it should take off like UBER. I am not sure I had an answer before I heard Robin Chase, the co-founder of ZIPcar, speak at the Business Innovation Factory Summit and then listened to her book about the sharing economy, PEERS, INC. Her theory sees UBER, AirBnB and other sharing economy ventures as excess capacity (capital) sifted through corporate and tech tools (INC), then connected and invigorated by available human capacity (PEERS). Aging in Place is just the same.
How is it the same?
UBER relies on existing cars to transport paying customers. AirBnB uses existing spaces made available to travelers. Aging in Place uses existing housing stock to house and care for older adults. In each case a tune up occurs before putting the excess capacity into service. For UBER the driver undergoes a background check and the car is cleaned and registered. For AirBnB a room is cleaned, possibly refurnished and photographed so it can be put into service. For aging in place our existing housing infrastructure must be updated, such as a no step entry, enhanced safety in the bathroom and high tech devices and connections. Then what has been existing capacity not quite available for this use becomes capital available to the aging and caregiving economy.
For both UBER and AirBnB software and management connect the owner/operator of the excess capacity to interested customers. The programs and apps are tools that manage client and supplier convenience, reservations/scheduling, payment and feedback. Aging in Place can be similar. Technology connects the end user to local services like caregivers, transportation and deliveries, family and community as well as health monitoring. Scheduling can be arranged and easily updated. Monitoring technology and data analysis for health interventions is available though not yet well utilized. Devices, software and services for all of the above have been around for years while identifying, scheduling and paying caregivers has received notable investment in the past year.*
Connecting all kinds of human capacity is key to successful aging in place. The Villages recruit volunteers, neighbors and family members share tasks, and paid caregivers and other services fill the gaps. This human capacity is not much different than the “gig economy” managed so well by UBER, Task Rabbit, DoorDash and other sharing economy platforms.
So we have established that Aging in place can be understood through the lens of the sharing economy. The next question is what do we need to get Aging in Place off the ground? I see a few holdups.
Key holdups include:
- Dis-aggregation of the customer base. To understand this point, think about how many owners control the excess capacity that needs to be tuned. Match that to the sites, individual health conditions, client profiles and caregiving ‘Peers’ cadre that will be managed. None of this is organized in any comprehensive way – YET! This may be the ultimate distributed data pool. Great job for technology to solve! (INC)
- The conversation about aging and healthcare needs to change. Change has started but the pace needs to quicken. We are moving from the need for care conversation – a problem steeped in the old and typical institutions- healthcare, nursing homes, assisted living and government funded programs seen around the only aggregated customer – the financially vulnerable. This focus colors statistics used to discuss the ‘market’ and the siting of pilots. The new conversation is about theopportunity presented by (disaggregated so far) out of pocket consumers for whom data is just starting to be collected. The recent investments mentioned above shows the opportunity conversation beginning BUT, as with any newly developing sector we can expect growing to be accompanied by fits and starts.
- Tuning of the spaces and purchase of the equipment lags behind because the message has been wrong for a very long time. The appeal has been focused on independence and fear leading to a perception of fault and disinterest in participation. The targets are not listening.^Homes Renewed, a coalition to drive policy incentivizing and leveraging private investment is one approach to a solution. (disclosure- I started Homes Renewed)
- The various providers need to integrate from their current silos. Stakeholders including family, community, construction, technology, healthcare and finance must begin to see themselves as a whole and operate as one industry. Technology will be critical (INC). A recent example of how aging, care, housing and finance is stuck in silos is exhibited in this SCAN Foundation side by side comparison of three recent studies that do not step out of their blinder silos.
- The PEERS component is already operating. This refers to the nearly unsung heroes of aging, care and respect for countless older Americans throughout the country, essentially working in the background. But there is no galvanization to form an economic or political block. Activating the PEERS as a political force as well as easing their task through policy, technology and respect is a real contrast to typical silo thinking.
Once capacity is tuned up and INC gets rolling Aging in Place will, like UBER, take OFF! But don’t hold your breadth. This sort of change only happens very slowly or not at all without advocacy. See Homes Renewed. Join us. Get active for a future as bright as silicon valley!