Entrepreneurs Focus on Seniors: Aging 2.0 Collaboration at Stanford

Whenever a top university joins with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and technologists, you know the alliance is important.

The Aging 2.0 conference at Stanford University took place on September 24th. As an attendee, I wasn't sure what to expect as aging hasn't attracted much attention from Silicon Valley entrepreneurial players until fairly recently. After all, cutting edge research and investment money haven't tended to migrate to those of us 50 and older.

So I was particularly delighted that a full house of attendees, an enthusiastic audience of both gray-haired and younger academicians, product designers and investors came together to support the development of concepts, products and services that would ultimately benefit boomers and older cohorts. But I wondered why the interests of seniors suddenly mattered so much in our typically youth-centered culture.

Intriguing presentations focused on service providers and small companies with diverse goals. For example, SingFit aids cognitive functioning through singing while True Link Financial offers a smart charge card that routinely checks the purchases of older adults with cognitive impairment in order to "preserve independence and quality of life." This is a niche product to safeguard at-risk seniors.

Quickly it became apparent to me that the target population was not healthy older adults, but folks with problems in everyday living caused by cognitive impairment or other diseases that compromise functioning -- primarily aimed at Alzheimer's disease, dementia, Parkinson symptoms or orthopedic challenges that are typically associated with aging.

While I don't want to diminish the importance of these products, I was really looking forward to seeing some thought by the brilliant minds present, focused on aging adults in a life stage not characterized by decline but by normal changes that don't lead to incapacitation. Recalling my favorite mantra, aging is not a disease and decline is not inevitable, I wondered why serious problems in aging seem to get most of the attention.

One of the cosponsors of the conference was the Center for Longevity at Stanford University. It's stated mission is to redesign long life, "looking for innovative ways to use science and technology to solve the problems of people over 50 and improve the well-being of people of all ages."

Aging2.0, a key sponsor of the event, describes itself as "a global network of innovators working in the 50+ market ... creating an interdisciplinary, collaborative community of people from business, research, policy, design and technology, together with older adults themselves in order to advance innovation and improve the quality of life."

Their objectives seem compelling and overarching. The truth is that much can be gained by attending to the needs of our generation's most cognitively or physically challenged because most of these advances also benefit people with similar challenges at any age. Still, I hope in the future that there will be more innovative ideas focused on the experience of everyday life associated with normal aging.

As longevity increases, I'd like to see the lives of healthy older adults continually enhanced through innovation and entrepreneurship going beyond the too-narrow constraints of the current emphasis on pathology. What do you think healthy seniors want?