Older adults continue to amaze us. At 77, John Glenn became the oldest person to go into space. At 86, Katherine Pelton swam the 200-meter butterfly in 3 minutes, 1.14 seconds, beating the men’s world record for that age group by more than 20 seconds.
Today, at 94, John Goodenough has invented a glass-based battery that may over-perform the powering of our smartphones, laptops, and all other rechargeable electronic devices, writes Kevin Maney, technology columnist for Newsweek Magazine. “Maybe Goodenough’s career will change some minds. His work has had as big an effect as just about any company founder in tech, and he’s proving there is great value in the knowledge that sits in his 90-year old noggin,” adds Maney. (“How a 94-Year-Old Genius May Save the Planet” by Kevin Maney, March 11, 2017)
As baby boomers continue to retire, companies and the world are losing those with the capacity to develop solutions of great magnitude to ease the world’s many problems. Additionally, retirees are losing an avenue that allows them to fulfill their desires to be of use and contribute their skills. This void is beginning to be filled by a young, innovative company—Tech-enhanced Life—which is demonstrating that not everyone need be an inventor, but anyone can use their expertise and skills to find solutions to a variety of important problems.
When Dr. Richard Caro, scientist turned entrepreneur, Oxford-trained Ph.D. in physics, and occasional angel investor met with groups of seniors three years ago, he repeatedly heard “what they missed most after retiring—being and feeling useful.” Together with colleague, John Milford, M.H.A., M. Div., and several investor-philanthropists, Dr. Caro founded the public benefit corporation Tech-enhanced Life, PBC. He and his colleagues then designed a process that would help fill that “desire to be useful” by giving seniors the opportunity to help create solutions to their own aging problems, and make the issues of growing older less challenging.
Next they formed the Longevity Explorers, a group of older adults (in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s) who today participate in this process by meeting in groups to explore new products and services at the intersection of aging and technology. These explorer circles analyze and evaluate aging products being created or already on the market to find the best and most useful ones to recommend. “They also help innovators conceptualize novel solutions to real problems that older adults like these explorers care about,” said Dr. Caro.
“These groups are incredibly creative, have huge amounts of accumulated wisdom and experience, and are a great resource for lots of things. We are identifying so many problems just crying out for an ingenious solution. It’s a great opportunity,” affirmed Dr. Caro.
While the business model of Tech-enhanced Life (the organizer of the Longevity Explorers) is still being refined, Dr. Caro has strong opinions about the philosophy behind the initiative. “I think that if we are able to help companies develop successful products that end up creating economic value, the Longevity Explorers should realize a portion of the economic benefit for themselves. And that is a key element of our emerging business model.”
In addition to the Longevity Explorer initiative (www.techenhancedlife.com/content/longevity-explorers), Tech-enhanced Life conducts a variety of product analyses and other research designed to be useful for adults and their families who want to improve their quality of life as they grow older. Examples such as a unique, independent and objective analysis of medical alert systems can be found on the Tech-enhanced Life website (www.techenhancedlife.com) together with a variety of explorations such as “Which is the best jar opener for people with arthritis?” and “What do our Longevity Explorers think of the new Amazon Echo and Alexa?”
Age does not deter discovering new ways to solve problems. Instead, solutions come by using observant, trained, and seasoned people with curiosity, critical thinking skills, and open minds to delve into issues and find solutions. It takes a changed mindset in society to accept that older adults not only want to be and feel useful, but are making valuable contributions that will impact future generations.