Why we need innovation in care for the aging

Our parents need help.

Every day another 10,000 people turn 65. By 2050, that will add up to nearly 84 million Americans. And yet, the way we care for older adults in this country — our parents and grandparents — is deeply inadequate.

The reality of aging in our country is frightening for most Americans. Medicaid covers in-home care for only those with the greatest financial need, and the wealthy can pay for their own top-notch home care. But what about everyone else?

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Yesterday the White House hosted a Conference on Aging, an event which happens only once a decade, to help spur change in how we think about care for older adults. It’s a great start. But we can’t just think about change any longer, we have to make it happen — both in the private sector and on Capitol Hill.

The first thing to change must be Medicare. If we expand Medicare coverage to include in-home care, and if we apply rigorous technology and analytics to that care to ensure we're helping older adults in the best possible way for their unique circumstances, we can lower the cost of health care. More Americans will stay healthy in their homes as they age rather than needing frequent visits to the hospital.

And this is where the greatest opportunity for innovation comes in — at home. Technology can both improve home care and bring down the cost. It’s time to start innovating for our parents the same way we innovate for kids, teens and adults.

If we can build Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, we can build a way for our parents to comfortably stay in their homes as they age, with joy and grace.

There are three things we must do. First, entrepreneurs must start using their creativity to imagine a better future for older adults. Too few entrepreneurs innovate in the senior space — and too few investor dollars fund those rare entrepreneurs who take the plunge.

Why is that? Many people assume that tech and older people don’t mix, that it’s too risky to invest in innovation for this sector. But our parents use tablets. They drive cars. They use ATMs. All were innovations in their time, and now we can’t remember living without them.

Next, we must support our care professionals — and value the work they do. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, roughly two million people in the United States work providing non­-medical home care to older Americans. Shockingly, these skilled professional caregivers earn on average $9.50 per hour and can only get 34 hours of work per week. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that 56 percent of these professional caregivers receive government assistance.

The fact that you can make more money flipping burgers in this country than you can caring for seniors — our collective parents — reflects a tragic imbalance in our core values as a society. This must change. Not only do the care professionals deserve better, the individuals who rely on them for help deserve the best possible care. By focusing our innovation on better, faster, smarter ways to provide this care, we can also better provide for this fast-growing segment of working Americans.

Finally, we must support our unpaid caregivers — family and close friends who help a loved one, often every day. More than 40 million Americans care for an elderly person, reporting that their own health declines as their stress increases. Many are caring for their children and their parents at the same time.

Family and friends need help deciphering the complex code of caring for their aging loved ones. They need affordable respite care to get a break for an hour or two. They also need better information, including accurate, fast reporting on the care their loved one is receiving, in real-time.

With vision and innovation, all of this is possible.

At Honor, we’re working as hard as we can to serve our collective parents, their care professionals and their families. Yesterday at the White House Conference on Aging, we announced that Honor will be giving away $1 million in free care across ten cities in the United States. We also recently announced $20 million in funding, led by Marc Andreessen at Andreessen Horowitz.

Now is the time for all of us — legislators, entrepreneurs, investors, companies, individuals — to come together and come up with actionable solutions to address one of the biggest crises this generation could face.

It is time to learn how to care for all of those who cared so deeply for us.

Sternberg is CEO and co-founder of Honor, a Silicon Valley company on a mission to reinvent the broken in-home care system.

 

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