The longevity market and you

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on September 08, 2016

I am forever on the lookout for some avenue of social or economic activity where people with disabilities will be the crowd most catered to and best served. I think I have found it. Long ignored by the national obsession with all things youthful, from amusement-ride movies to one hand-wringing article after another about the mystifying Millennials, aging Baby Boomers are again seizing the mantle of change. The new market/culture is not called the disability market. It’s called “the longevity market,” but in terms of innovation and increased ease of living, it could be the best thing that ever happened to people with disabilities like you and me.

“Longevity?” some of you are mumbling. “Why do I care about longevity? I’m thirty-six years old and already turned off by all the blood pressure and diabetes ads on TV. As one headline read, ‘Do only sick old people watch the news?’ I, the reader, am neither sick nor old, so I’m going on to the next blog…”

Stop and hear me out. Yes, I admit, I am old, but that’s really beside the point. First of all, you will probably be old soon – there are 75 million boomers turning 50 every five seconds – and second, the innovations coming down the pike are technologies that largely focus on disability, since most old people experience some kind of disability. Younger people will get the benefit of unintended consequences. Think of it like this. Botox, basically Botulinum, the most lethal toxin known to man, has many medical uses and is extremely popular among aging film stars who end up looking like guests at the Star Wars Cantina. Then scientists discovered a whole new, unintended use -- a miracle drug in the fight against incontinence. That to me is a major boon to anyone paralyzed above the waist and no one knew it was coming.

Be forewarned. The examples I will use here are largely thought up by high-tech, for mucho--profit incubators, the well-paid Google geeks who sit around all day and come up with items like the driverless car. They do it to make money! Depending on your feelings about capitalism, this can be a good or bad thing. Personally, I see it as a good thing. I really like my iPhone, the big one for old people, and Apple made a zillion dollars off of it. They wouldn’t have done it, I reckon, as a public service.

The first order of business among longevity innovators is health care. There is a company called Envoy, for instance, backed by the same early-state venture capitalists who brought you Uber and Kickstarter, that calls itself a “family concierge service.” What this means is that they are signing up stay-at-home moms and other freelancers to come to your home and help you out doing the little tasks that drive people with disabilities, and their unpaid family-member care-takers, nutty. (By the way, those caretakers are disappearing fast.) Much like Uber – in many ways, exactly like Uber – company drivers pick up prescriptions and do similar errands and then they come in and fix dinner or program your remote. Again, like Uber, they are only a cell phone app away. It’s not cheap -- $199 a month for weekly visits and $119 for every other week visits. I’m sure they will soon get down to service on demand for much less money.

Here’s another service on the way that private capital is hot about. A company called InnovAge – who makes up these names? – is creating one-stop centers where the elderly and disabled can see doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, dentists, and home health aides to both handle their medical needs and help them live safely in their own homes. And the good news is that it is largely paid for by a little known Medicare program called PACE, which stands for the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. If it works, i.e., makes money for the investors, they’ll soon have to call the program PACD, as in, Disabled. They save the government buckets of money over the evil nursing home, allow people to stay in their own home, and patients can probably get Uber, or Envoy, to drive them back and forth.

Of course those Google geeks think there must be better ways to help people than driving them to a center, in the same way that there are better, or at least easier, ways to buy stuff (Amazon) or keep up with friends, real or imagined (Facebook.) This would include virtual, or tele, medicine, talking to your doctor or nurse via Skype or maybe your big screen TV. There is also the idea of sensors in the home that can help track patients’ health. This kind of techo-doctoring makes some people blanch – it seems a little cold and impersonal – but, I know, even now, I often communicate with doctors via text messaging and it actually seems more personal, ironically, than less. It’s 30 seconds of the man or woman’s absolute individual attention rather than a car trip, parking, sitting in a waiting room, and finally spending thirty minutes of their time, half of it asking about their college kid. If I have to go somewhere for an exam, I’d rather go to a InnovAge center where I can get an MRI and a cavity filled on the same Tuesday morning.

Personally, I hate to drive to doctors’ appointments. It is such a hassle. There has got to be a better way. If it’s not virtual medicine, then it will probably be something else involving high tech.

The only idea I have to pitch to the money guys is the driverless wheelchair. Sure, you have to sit there, but why can’t you be sitting there reading a book or watching a football game on your mobile device rather than having to watch where you’re going? Just tell the chair that you want to go grab a sandwich at Subway and it will get you there and back, hassle free. And the chair should be solar-powered, too, something the world-class innovator, Elon Musk, the Thomas Edison of our time, is already readying for his cars.

The real message here is that people with a lot of brains and a lot of money are turning their attention to the longevity market and will no doubt come up with devices and services that help all of us, from twenty to eighty. As the head of Colorado’s Cross-Disability Coalition, a disability activist group, put it, “Now that there’s money involved, everyone is interested.”

© 2016 Allen Rucker

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The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life