a high quality of life as they age—creating a policy and political dilemma that is only going to escalate. This is, he said, becoming a driver of politics and of the market.
Older Americans are living longer today than their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations, but they are also likely to have chronic conditions that will lead to disability. According to Coughlin, of the total U.S. population of about 310 million people, 110 million have a chronic disease, 60 million have two chronic diseases, and 20 million have five or more chronic conditions.1 This convergence of aging and disability, combined with technology, has created an economic and political opportunity to rewrite the narrative of aging. New business models and new technologies can combine to create a future that people will want and enjoy because it responds to their needs. Coughlin argued that successful technologies will appeal to everyone in some way, and individuals will stop regarding these technologies as something only useful for older adults or individuals with disabilities.
People continue to have faith in technology. According to one survey, 90 percent of American baby boomers said that they know how to use technology to make their lives more interesting and enjoyable (Smith and Clurman, 2007). Coughlin argued that the goal is not just to provide additional support but to excite and create a level of living that everyone can aspire to, no matter their level of ability. “If you make good technology,” he said, “it responds to their needs automatically.” Already, technologies are being embedded in clothes, utensils, and even in the human body to make life easier and healthier. Systems worn under clothes can increase strength and flexibility and monitor well-being. Wheelchairs can respond to voice commands to find a person or go to a specified location. A car, a home, a workplace, a nursing home, or a hospital can monitor physical states and intervene when necessary and desired. Telephones can remind people to take their medicine, call their mothers, or do anything else that needs to be done. Robots do not just clean houses; they greet people in offices and aid in physical rehabilitation. In some cases, these are technologies in search of a problem, said Coughlin. But if technologies are smart and connected and provide needed services, regardless of a person’s age, they will be welcomed.
1As Joseph Agostini, senior medical director at Aetna, pointed out later in the workshop, among just Medicare beneficiaries, 27 percent have three to four chronic conditions, and 20 percent have five or more chronic conditions. Together, these groups account for almost 90 percent of Medicare costs. The 20 percent with five or more chronic conditions account for two-thirds of Medicare costs.