Monday, July 13, 2015

Technology Innovations That Could Help the Elderly - WSJ

​Look at this brainy women 91 coming up with innovative aids for the elderly.
Highly impressed. URL at the bottom.​

The world's population is aging at a rate never seen before, and the World Health Organization says that by 2050 two billion people will be over the age of 60.

Longer lifespans can be attributed in part to the development of new technologies. But ironically, the people who come up with new technologies rarely focus on innovations that could make day-to-day life easier for the elderly.

Barbara Beskind is an exception. The 91-year-old Ms. Beskind has been designing products since the Great Depression and owns several patents on inflatable equipment for helping children improve their balance. Now a part-time designer at the legendary Silicon Valley design firm IDEO, Ms. Beskind is still coming up with ideas and in her spare time makes equipment and gadgets for her friends.

"As a designer, there's always this dilemma," Ms. Beskind says. "Do I keep this idea to myself until I can find a manufacturer? Or do I reveal these things, and give away the store? Well, I'm 91 now. I don't have the time or money to wait around to get patents."

Ms. Beskind talked to The Wall Street Journal about technological innovations she thinks could help the elderly. Here are edited excerpts:

A better walker
WSJ: Do you have any ideas for products for older people that don't exist today?

MS. BESKIND: How about a device that can keep people from fracturing a hip? I would be interested in air bags that could be worn. I worked on a prototype, with five different sizes of hair curlers that come out from a waistband. But I couldn't get a power source that could inflate them fast enough.

I'd also like to see a new addition to the telephone. Today, you have volume control on the receiver. What we should have is speed control. I get a message on the machine, and they leave a 13-digit phone number to call back. I am listening, and I have to grab a pen, and sometimes people talk so fast. Slowing down messages would be good.

Instead of a walker, Ms. Beskind uses ski poles she modified to encourage upright posture and a dynamic gait. 

Also, a lot of people who care for the elderly come from other countries and speak only rudimentary English. For people who are sick and bedridden, it can be very frustrating. We should have translation technology, a device where you speak into it in one language and it comes out in another.

WSJ: Are there products for older people out today that you think could be better?

MS. BESKIND: I'm concerned about older people maintaining good balance. We need dynamic walkers. The regular walkers encourage poor posture and balance issues. People lean on walkers. There's a need for that, but there's also a need to stand upright and have a dynamic gait.

I use walking sticks that I designed myself. The bottoms of the sticks have rockers, like rocking chairs, instead of a cane-tip. They give me a push-off. It's almost like floating. You see, a walker just signals that you're old or disabled or dysfunctional. My walking sticks are modified ski poles. When people see me, they ask if I'm headed to the slopes.

Higher-tech glasses
WSJ: Do you think you could design better hearing aids for older people?

MS BESKIND: As a close observer of elders who need hearing assistance, I think there needs to be something that could be regulated externally. I envision a simple surgical implant behind each ear—perhaps a conductor or electrode—that would receive signals from an external control device that might be worn in a pants pocket or on a retractable cord pinned to [clothing] fabric.

Control for background noise and close conversation tones, pitch, etc., could be refined by those experienced in the field. There would be no discomfort when sleeping on one side, and because the hearing aid wouldn't be removed at night, there would be no risk of the person missing an emergency call or fire.

WSJ: Any ideas for better eyeglasses?

MS BESKIND: I'd like to see a camera mounted on the bridge of glasses. I'm legally blind, myself. A camera could give enhanced visual accuracy that lenses don't give. A camera could help with peripheral vision. Also, how about a photo-identity [feature] for people who are approaching? And voice-recognition technology? Politicians might want this too!

WSJ: What is your opinion of the mobility scooters that many older people use these days?

MS BESKIND: If you need it, use it. But there's been a big ad campaign for a lot of people who don't really need them. The scooters are used too often. Try to keep your balance and your circulation. Don't prematurely [opt for a scooter]. These scooters don't keep up your physical health.

WSJ: The trend nowadays is to put sensors inside of medical devices and orthopedic equipment, sensors that collect information and send it to doctors and family members. Is this an idea that older people are comfortable with?

MS BESKIND: It just depends on the person. Generally speaking, baby boomers will be faster to accept technology as an answer than will people in my age group. But anything that really helps—say, technology that can send information to doctors—is likely to be readily accepted by everyone.

Mr. Hay is a reporter for Dow Jones VentureWire and The Wall Street Journal in San Francisco. Email him at

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