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Chair’s Corner: Innovations in Aging

Innovation—the action or process of innovating, synonymous with change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, breakthrough, and more.

The term “innovation” is largely positive, and a good way to think about the way that the world is changing, even as we talk about the age-old act of growing older. How do we innovate?

Applying research in new ways
When we consider longevity, we know two things to be true—physical activity and social connections are two things that not only support a better life, but longer life. A multitude of studies support this knowledge. Innovation comes in finding new and different ways to apply these learnings to our own lives, and to support others in staying active and connected through Aging Network programs and services.

Research also tells us that loneliness is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad, 2015). And you may recall headlines earlier this year, including U.K. Appoints a Minister for Loneliness. This knowledge has caused a much-needed new emphasis on programs and services that promote social inclusion and social participation. It reminds us that fun and good times are life-supporting.

Research continues to help us understand brain health and respond effectively to memory loss. One innovative response to the growing number of people who live with memory loss is Momentia Seattle, a grassroots movement that provides opportunities for people with memory loss and their caregivers to stay active and connected. From the arts—music, rhythm, improv theatre, film, and painting—to volunteer activities and walking, Momentia programs offer nearly an A–Z menu of options.

Testing new ideas for service delivery
Aging and Disability Services (ADS) and agencies throughout the Aging Network are looking at new ways of doing things. Recently, ADS celebrated the accomplishments of seven organizations that received 2017 Human Services Department Innovation Fund awards that focused on healthy aging and at least one of the eight domains of livability that provide the framework for Age Friendly Seattle. The department created the fund to make small, nimble awards to community organizations that can test new ideas for service delivery that focus on results and racial equity.

A relatively recent Aging Network innovation was creation of Community Living Connections—a coordinated countywide information and referral service for any adult who has questions about aging or disability issues, including elders, caregivers, family members, and professionals. Aging and Disability Services has contracted with a network of community agencies that can provide comprehensive support services, from simple questions and answers to timely access to long-term services and supports.

Recognizing that family and friends often serve as unpaid caregivers, playing a major role in supporting older adults who need help to live at home, Community Living Connections helps caregivers provide high-quality care and also maintain their own health and well-being. If you are a caregiver, contact Community Living Connections at 1-844-348-5464 or info@communitylivingconnections.org.

Using new technology to make life easier
In the past year, there has been an explosion (in a good way!) in development of smart home technology—for instance, voice-activated devices that can turn on your lights, turn off your coffee pot, and respond to your doorbell.

It’s common now to see wristwatches that can tell you not only the date and time, but also serve as a heart monitor, play music, receive text messages, charge retail purchases, and coach your choice of physical activity. Star Trek fans will recall transponders—the communication badges worn by all starship personnel. We’ve passed that! Our children or grandchildren may say “Beam me up, Scotty!” before too long.

More than fun gadgets, new technology can support aging in place by making tasks easier, reminding you to move, monitoring important information, and even alerting you, your loved ones, and your health care provider of changes in your health. At the same time, technology companies are devising new and better ways to keep your information safe and secure.

To learn more, visit Aging in Place Technology Watch, a well-established and respected webpage that follows industry trends, research, and market response to new technologies for older adults and others.

Communicating in new and different ways
As an AgeWise reader, you know that a tremendous amount of valuable information is available on the Internet. With the advent of social media, smart phones, and integrated devices (like the watch mentioned above), there are more ways to receive and send information, and to keep in touch with family and friends, than ever before.

Age Friendly Seattle has produced an innovative monthly event series that invites people everywhere to discuss the elements of a livable community from their comfort of their home or office. Kitchen Table Talks are described in another article in this issue. Thanks to Skype for Business technology now available to City of Seattle employees, both telephone and Internet can be used to bring people together for a discussion. When the group is small, it’s fairly easy to facilitate the discussion. The system allows up to 250 people to participate, though, so the Age Friendly Seattle team makes a variety of options available to ask questions: e-mail, text message, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets (with a designated hashtag, which indexes messages), “instant message” for those who log-in to the meeting online, and, of course, voice.

Video has also become a major communication platform, and auto-captioning on YouTube makes it possible for those videos to be viewed and understood by people with hearing loss. Increasingly, video producers are including captioning (sometimes as an art form) and closed captioning that can be turned on and off. This is extremely important, given the high percentage of people who have hearing loss (at age 65, one out of three people).

While we all know people who make fun of social media, there’s no denying its communication power. Whether you want it to share family photos or see it as a powerful networking tool, we can credit social media with making it easier to share information and collaborate. Within the Aging Network, social media can be used effectively for training and advocacy, and as a portal to valuable information.

The future holds a lot of promise. One indication of that was the successful Age Friendly Seattle “A City for All” civic technology hackathon held last September. In addition to the nine amazing project teams described in the event report, there was at least one individual who spent the weekend working on a virtual reality project (computer-simulated environments) to support community mobility and several who completed dozens of interviews about the Aging Network, looking for ways to more effectively communicate stories about our accomplishments.

Inspiration for innovation
A few years back, Huffington Post published 11 of the Smartest Things Anyone Ever Said Abut Getting Older. Follow the link to see images, but here’s the list (of 12, oddly enough):

  • “The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.”—Frank Lloyd Wright
  • “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”—C. S. Lewis
  • “Nature gives you the face you have at 20; it is up to you to merit the face you have at 50.”—Coco Chanel
  • “At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”—Ann Landers
  • “Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever.”—Walt Disney
  • “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”—Henry David Thoreau
  • “Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.”—Mark Twain
  • “You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt, as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”—Douglas MacArthur
  • “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”—Henry Ford
  •  “The answer to old age is to keep one’s mind busy and to go on with one’s life as if it were interminable.”—Leon Edel
  • “Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”—Eleanor Roosevelt

The women and men credited with those statements were wise. In many ways, they have referred to continuous improvement with age. Innovation! This month, consider ways that you can make a difference through innovation—in your own life and the lives of others.


Contributor Ava Frisinger chairs the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. She welcomes input from readers via e-mail (advisorychair@agewisekingcounty.org) as well as applicants for open positions on the council. For more information, visit www.agingkingcounty.org/advisory-council.


AC Group Picture 2018

Following are some of the events that ADS Advisory Council members will participate in this month:

The Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services meets monthly, except January and October, and holds periodic forums. Open to the public, agendas are available within a week of the meeting. For more information or to request an accommodation, contact Gigi Meinig at gigi.meinig@seattle.gov or 206-684-0652.

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