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“Hope I die before I get old,” sang The Who (readers over 70 or under 30 may be asking, “the who?”), and while a number of music legends have embraced this declaration, many people approaching later life may also appreciate the sentiment. It isn’t the idea of being old per se that causes us to swim in denial (not a river in Egypt), but the thought of physical or mental decline. No one wants to be a burden. And no one wants to be at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
At the same time, we now have the technology to make aging easier, safer, and friendlier than ever before. If seniors will use it.
As seasoned reverse mortgage professionals understand, the key to persuading seniors to utilize any service or product designed to enhance their life is perceived benefit. Here’s one real-life example: My father, nearly 90 and a self-described “horse-and-buggy era” kind of guy, steadfastly refused to consider any technology more advanced than a television set while my mother was alive. They may have been the last couple in America to own a rotary dial phone.
But like many people who reach advanced age, my dad is hard of hearing; the loss of clarity has been progressing for decades, until now even digital hearing aids do little but amplify rather than clarify. He has a captioned telephone that translates speech to text, but that doesn’t help with in-person interactions. Still, with Mom to act as his ears, he was relatively content.
Her death was a wake-up call. Within weeks he was learning email on my brother’s old laptop. Next he purchased a smart phone that converts speech to text in person, so he can communicate with people face-to-face. He’s delighted — and suddenly so digitally adept it floors me. After his first smart phone training session, he emailed, “I also discovered they have an app for which I qualify that will let me call AAA if I ever have car trouble — and I’ll get their replies in text!”
Who is this man?
While currently available technology already includes everything from GPS shoes that can locate an elder with memory impairment who has wandered off, to smart pillboxes that remind someone when to take their medication, the tipping point for adoption is showing seniors how the technology will help them — before they actually need it.
Brian Reimer, the leading self-driving car researcher (this one is still on the drawing board!) at MIT’s AgeLab, says “Training is a make-or-break issue. If we don’t help people get used to the new technology now — teach them the advantages, drawbacks and appropriate use of each new feature — we risk losing them forever when glitches emerge. It’s far easier to lose trust than it is to gain it, and that’s particularly true for older adults.”
For seniors who resist the idea of a caregiver (or a possible relocation) when they begin to need more assistance with activities of daily living, gerontechnology may be the best answer to, “Well, I don’t want to move to assisted living, and I don’t want somebody I don’t know coming into my home every day.”
What needs do your reverse mortgage clients and prospects have that gerontechnology can support, to enable them to live with greater safety and independence in their own homes? The right technology, paired with a HECM, may be precisely what seniors (or their concerned loved ones) need to know about now in order to make one of the most important informed decisions of their later lives.