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AARP: Fostering Innovation


AARP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Enterprise Strategy & Innovation Officer Hollis “Terry” Bradwell III is a big fan of smart homes and dreams of the industry getting to the point where technology becomes ‘as frictionless as possible’ in our lives. He says, “This is where the magic is – especially for an older adult being able to have more of a personal relationship with technology. As we get older and are living independently, we may find ourselves more isolated because our friends are going in different directions.”

AARP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Enterprise Strategy & Innovation Officer Hollis “Terry” Bradwell III

Bradwell helps shape AARP’s future through the development of a clear enterprise strategy and a strong innovation pipeline. He heads up strategic planning, corporate relations and an innovation lab that examines how the organization can develop new solutions to help people 50-plus live their best lives.

He believes the smart home adds the promise of independence for older adults. Even the ability to turn lights off and on so you don’t trip in the dark can be very valuable. He says, “Breaking a bone can change the entire trajectory of your life.” He adds, “When you talk about ageless design; the implications are huge because convenience, at some point in our lives, can turn into a necessity.”

He spoke with i3 about the importance of cultivating high-quality, innovative products and services for older adults and educating the tech industry about the enormous market opportunity that exists.

What is the market size for older adults?

One of the things we would love the technology community to understand is that the aging and caregiving population represents a huge market opportunity – not just today but also into the foreseeable future. The size and buying power of the boomer market in the senior demographic is staggering. Our Longevity Economy Report underscores the sum of all economic activity that is generated by people 50 and older was $7.6 trillion in 2015, with consumer spending from this demographic totaling $5.6 trillion. This suggests there could be a lot more innovation and investment in the older population.

There are about 111 million people who are age 50-plus. That number will grow over the next 10 years by about 19 million versus only six million for the 18-39 population. By 2050, there will be an estimated 161 million 50-plus consumers. Unfortunately the market is still underappreciated. But we see a growing trend with many startups as well as established brands looking toward the boomer marketplace in terms of opportunity and producing products and services.

Can you talk about the Hatchery? (AARP’s Innovation Lab)

The Hatchery is AARP’s own lab and strong symbol of our commitment to innovation. It is also a shared desire to bring new DNA within our organization in all of its forms – whether it is new products, services or programs, we are co-creating with our established vendor partners as well as with our new vendor partners. They range in industry focus and are all major companies that are established in private and public sectors. They are producing products that cater toward solving some of the societal issues and concerns that our populations encounter as they age.

What do you show in the lab?

The Hatchery, AARP's Innovation Lab

It is a showcase of ideas. The Hatchery, our Innovation Lab, offers a means to incubate new ventures, develop new solutions, support our teams’ efforts, conduct workshops and host events. Recent panel discussions have focused on things like smart design and autonomous vehicles.

The Hatchery represents a space to care, and a place to create. We are focused on several distinct issue areas for those 50-plus. One area that we have a huge focus on is caregiving. There are about 40 million caregivers today. By 2020, there will be an estimated 112 million people that will need care, but the overall number of caregivers is only expected to reach 45 million. And of course, with caregiving, there are a litany of products and services that could be made available, and more importantly, information.

Another place where we are innovating is the work environment for people 50-plus. The way we look at vocation and occupation is very different than how our parents did. Today, individuals can have three or four different careers. We are looking at innovations around helping them to understand the marketplace and ways in which they can showcase their experiences.

We are also helping individuals understand how they can plan their financials and save more money. It is estimated that 60 percent of the kids born today will live past 100. That is staggering. Today, traditional retirement is defined as 65, but even if it was 70, that is still 30 more years where you can’t be in a position where you outlive your money. We are working with our partners and co-creators to provide opportunities that help inform our members in the 50-plus population about the importance of saving and also give them tools to supplement their income.

We are focused on the area of transition as well. Once we get to a magical retirement, where you have a lifetime of learning but still a lot to look forward to, it becomes a transition point for many individuals. Now that my kids are out of the house and I have worked 30 years, what should I do with the rest of my life? So 2017 is going to be dedicated in that area. We are putting out into the marketplace, products, services and programs – whether they are paid programs or whether they are free to the public. At the end of the day, it is about solving societal problems.

What technology is making the caregiving experience easier?

Last year at CES, we released the Caregiving Innovations Frontiers Report (PDF) that focuses on six distinct areas. One area for example is daily essential activities that we take for granted that can be the difference between a good day and a bad day for someone. I know firsthand having been a caregiver myself. As a caregiver, we will break our backs and we will move mountains to make sure the people that we love receive the care and support they need. But sometimes in the process, we forget to take care of ourselves. There could be many investments in caregiver quality of life making sure that they are strong and viable and have those support services around them so they can provide the best care to a loved one.

What trends do you see?

There are three specific trends that are important when you look at the aging population in the tech space. Longevity – we are living longer lives and beyond just the extension of the human lifespan, the likelihood of relatively good health during the later decades is an important aspect of this phenomenon that we call the bonus years. We are gaining healthy and productive years in our sixth, seventh and eighth decades. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have blueprints or expectations of how these years will be spent. This is uncharted territory – not just for the U.S., but for the world.

The Hatchery, AARP's Innovation Lab

Another trend that the tech community needs to understand is aging in place. Tomorrow’s older population will enjoy longer lives, better health, but overwhelmingly when we polled them, they want to maintain their precious independence. Upon retirement today, nine out of 10 seniors tell us they prefer to grow old in their own homes. But to be successful at aging in place demands that someone’s home and their household products not only provide enjoyment and stimulation today, but also must support declining functional limitations over time and enhance the quality of life.

And the last trend is financial. With longer life expectancy, it requires that we not depend on government vehicles like social security. Unfortunately when we look at the data, many because of lack of planning will be forced to live just on social security. The reality is that social security is never enough. From a technology perspective, we are looking at traditional institutions around finance – to help aid us in that longer life span. To summarize, longevity, aging in place and financial are the three trends that we are paying close attention to.

Is wearable technology a boon for seniors?

Wearable technology is one of the biggest areas that hold promise and hope. But let me be real about this. From our studies we find that folks are resistant to a lot of wearable technology. The reason is because of the way it is designed. There are designs that provide the functions you need in terms of helping monitor your health, tracking mechanisms for someone with Alzheimer’s or experiencing cognitive decline. Those things are wonderful but there needs to be more work put into the design when it comes to wearable technology. If I was trying to give my late mother advice that would help her with health and safety, she would say – I wouldn’t wear that, it doesn’t match my outfits. The adoption rate has not been as strong as we would like it to be. We are not finding where utility meets fashion. If you get those two things right, then you are helping individuals in a way that has unintended consequences and has the great benefit of preserving dignity.

Will smart homes help people live independently?

Absolutely, our members have a strong desire to preserve their dignity as they age, they want to live at home and they want to live on their own terms. We all will age and go through limitations in what we can do. Let me give you one example. I have a smart lock at home and it is cool because no matter where I am, I can open the door if someone wants to deliver something or I have a relative visiting and I don’t have to give them a spare key or a code. For me it is a convenience. But for an older adult, that may be going through cognitive decline and not being able to remember where the keys are, having smart locks – especially the ones with biometrics, is a wonderful idea. Also as we get older, we take for granted being able to grip a key and get it into a lock without trembling or shaking. And at night if you drop your keys, then because of eyesight decline, you can’t find them. If you look at something as simple as smart locks, at my age it is a convenience but 20 years from now, it may be a necessity for me.

What are your thoughts on robots as companions?

Technology is evolving into a place where it is becoming not just smarter in terms of being able to do what we ask it to do, but more intuitive and beginning to anticipate our needs. When you start developing that type of relationship, communicating with technology and interacting with technology in the way that you would interact with the analog things in your life, to me – there is a huge benefit.

I think robotics will go through the same evolution as computing – when the consumer sector acquired it, it went astronomical. It will start with simple tasks that will become much more complex especially for an older adult that needs repetitive tasks done for them.

For example, our friends at Hasbro have developed a line of robotic pets specifically for older adults. The Joy for All Companion Pet Cat and Pup simulate many of the behaviors as well as the look and feel of real pets. They have been producing robotic animal toys designed for kids for over a decade. What they found from customer reviews was that a significant percentage were not being purchased for the intended 48-year-old child but for older adults that were not able to physically take care of an animal but desired companionship that was authentic. Hasbro dug into this insight and began research with older adults in community and independent living situations to understand what features were important to this population of new users. The need or desire they heard most often was interactive companionship and realism. The more real they made it, individuals that felt isolated were interacting with something familiar that engaged them – it made them feel connected and happy. Robotics will play an increasingly important role serving the needs of older adults. From an AARP perspective, working with innovative companies such as Hasbro, we can collaboratively accelerate the impact robotics will have for older people who are experiencing isolation and loneliness.

Will virtual reality give housebound seniors a new way to connect with the world?

Many older adults, especially those with family members that don’t live close to them, find themselves isolated, lonely and under-stimulated. We found through our studies that virtual reality can spark more social interaction and alleviate boredom for caregivers and recipients. It may eventually let older adults and seniors virtually visit family at gatherings that they could not attend in person. Doctors have stated that the development of this type of futuristic technology can also help them treat anxiety and assist cognitive dysfunction and dementia and help diabetes patients stay active. Virtual reality can bring a sense of realism and that sense of social engagement. We are launching innovation challenges next year around VR working with the MIT Age Lab. So more to come on VR but it is definitely a space where we have interest because of the benefits.

Will self-driving cars benefit someone who perhaps has vision problems?

Absolutely, we are looking at transportation in general. We are developing our own white paper point of view on how self-driving cars could benefit in real ways society and the older adult. We understand the benefits and convenience of what self-driving cars can bring us. We see being able to connect outside of your home as valuable. It’s a very precious state but you don’t want your home to become a jail. We are reimagining what transportation can be whether it is self-driving cars or taking Uber. I love that Uber can arrange transportation for a loved one without them ever being engaged in that transaction. It is there to pick them up, take them wherever they need to be and bring them back safely to their home. Self-driving cars are one thing, but we are reimagining technology around transportation. We at AARP are very much in favor of it.

What are some of AARP’s outreach efforts in the tech realm?

The Hatchery, AARP's Innovation Lab

I am particularly proud of our Live Pitch effort where we engage with the technology community with new ventures and startups. We have created a platform for them to showcase their innovations and connect with the community especially in the areas that map to our interests in terms of delivering social value and social impact. Our Live Pitch event outside of San Francisco was one of our best with about 300 companies participating. We are very connected with the venture community. Many of these companies would have a hard time attracting this kind of attention so we give them that platform to engage and get investment in the products and services that will help individuals live their best lives as they get older.

We also engage in other ways like at CES. We put out information like our Caregiving Innovation Frontiers Report. We also have a complimentary finance health report that helps the private sector define opportunity for investment in these areas. We will soon announce the AARP Innovation Champions award, with an initial focus on caregiving, for those companies that are doing best in class products and services that truly help individuals and we will be evaluating around ageless innovation that is designed for all but a senior can also benefit. As we grow older and as certain functions decline, these are innovations that can evolve with us.

What does the future look like?

I have always been a bit of a self-professed futurist but I have actually stopped imagining because the future is here. Now it is not about imagining the future, it is the possibilities. To me, the sky is the limit. There are so many possibilities on what we can do with technology. It is just astounding.

Cindy Loffler Stevens

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