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What The Future May Hold For Old(er) Women

What will it be like to be a 70, 80, 90, 100-year-old woman in the future? Let's imagine 'Nina' in decades ahead. Nina, whose husband died three years ago, lives in her own one-story home, in a pleasant intergenerational community, having made the decision to 'age in place.' Her house is close to the village center where she's on a first name basis with the merchants in all the shops.
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What will it be like to be a 70, 80, 90, 100-year-old woman in the future? Let's imagine "Nina" in decades ahead. Nina, whose husband died three years ago, lives in her own one-story home, in a pleasant intergenerational community, having made the decision to "age in place." Her house is close to the village center where she's on a first name basis with the merchants in all the shops. Her extra bedroom welcomes visiting family members, but is available for a care-giver when the need arises.

As she awakens in the early morning, small LED lights automatically illuminate her pathway, as she makes her way through the house. Her pre-set coffee begins to brew as she settles in her comfortable chair to peruse the morning news. The Google glasses she dons bring her a 3D experience of world events, as she changes channels with a nod of her head. A large screen on one wall brings a visit from her good friend, Sophie, a life-size hologram, wishing her "Good morning" as they plan their day. Sophie views a hologram of Nina on her wall screen at the same time.

As she inspects her fridge while preparing breakfast, Nina creates her shopping list by typing the names of items needed or just swiping an empty container across her refrigerator screen. When she presses "send" her list is electronically transmitted to the local grocery depot, where her order is processed and soon delivered to her door. She prefers traditional fresh food, although she knows a popular line of meats is being produced from stem cells of animals. Her home food printer will create her main course for dinner. When it imports signals from the small skin implant on her arm, it will balance her nutritional need with her personal flavor and texture preferences. If she doesn't want to cook for herself, she knows she can eat out with friends, or have her favorite dishes sent to her from neighborhood restaurants. She sometimes helps deliver Meals-on-Wheels to older, house-bound elders, happy to know that service is available should she ever need it.

For local errands Nina likes to walk to the stores, wheeling her grocery tote as she goes. For more serious shopping, she accesses a motorized scooter at the nearby scooter sharing depot. Comfortably seated, she tells it where she needs to go, and she sits back as it automatically follows the magnetic strip in the roadway to her destination.

For more distant ventures, she signals the local ride service with a swipe of her finger on her iBracelet. A car, having detected her location through their GPS, promptly picks her up at her door and later brings her home when she's ready. Today she's having lunch with old friends at a favorite bistro.

Although Nina has never been one to rush to acquire the newest digital wonder, technology has gradually woven itself into the fabric of her life. She doesn't miss a step when billboards and store window displays target her as she walks by, triggered by her GPS. The device on her wrist responds to her voice requests as she uses it to phone, to locate destinations, to answer queries, to view pictures, and to hear music. When she is near a wall screen, she can project any of these functions onto large visual displays, even conference calls. Until she had her cataracts repaired, she was relieved to be able to project the book she was reading onto her wall screen, or another flat surface. Sometimes she added the audio component, allowing her to listen as she read along.

While she's away, Nina's wrist device allows her to turn lights on and off in her home, alter temperature setting, and check the premises through cameras perched on her house and attached to her security drone. No more need for bulky keys or a wallet for money, as her digital ID lets her open any of her locks and buy and pay for items with the flick of her wrist.

Nina's not quite ready to get the newest contact lenses, but she loves the idea that they can display to her eyes only the name and profile information of whomever she is facing--the perfect antidote to a sometimes undependable memory. "Great for a cocktail party," she thinks, having been told by her doctor that "nouns are the first to go."

Not all of Nina's friends are as comfortable as she is with this new technology. Some are still clinging to life as it used to be. Her pal Phyllis prefers books printed on paper and writes notes to people on pretty stationery. No wall screen at her house, but she knows how to e-mail her great-grandchildren on a still working, hand-me-down, first generation iPad. Nina notices, however, that when they're together, Phyllis frequently asks her questions that can only be answered on a wrist device; Nina is happy to help her out.

Nina's health is monitored daily, at home, by tiny digital sensors in her cup, in her clothing, in her bathroom, and within her iBracelet, so doctor visits are unnecessary when she is well. If the sensors register concern about blood pressure, cholesterol, body temperature, heartbeat, or changes in saliva or urine, her doctor is alerted electronically, and she receives a call for an appointment.

She's not one to complain about minor medical issues, but is thankful for all the newest advances that are keeping her fit and feeling good. Cataract surgery erased the sometimes beautiful but distracting halos around light sources and eliminated her need for eyeglasses. Her hip replacement was successful; no more grinding bone-on-bone that kept her from walking or sitting comfortably. And most amazing to her, just when she thought she would lose all her hearing in her right ear, she became a subject in a clinical trial that inserted stem cells grown from her own skin directly into her cochlea. Gradually, new cochlear hair cells were generated, and her hearing greatly improved. "What," she wondered, "will they think of next?"

Since she knows her family have concerns about her living alone, Nina has agreed to having a room sensor installed that alerts them to any drastic change in her daily movement. Her wrist device also functions as a life alert bracelet that would allow her to summon aid in an emergency. Her family also knows that she is regularly taking her prescribed medications, as she, and they, receive feedback messages from her digitized pill dispenser.

When she recently had a fall and needed assistance during her recovery, a mobile robot was available to help Nina move about, get dressed, and clean up the house when her home health aide was not there. She is still happy to have the robo-vac on active duty while she's out.

Nina's day typically begins with a nearby exercise class, often followed by coffee with some of her classmates. They like to talk about books they are reading, places they've been, family matters, and current events. They disperse to carry on their busy lives.

On her way home, Nina stops to visit her 97-year-old aunt, who is being well-cared for in a Green Home Project house where she lives with eleven other elders, each with their own private room and bath. They share an airy central living room. With no fixed schedule, her aunt enjoys sleeping late and likes to help out in the large, open communal kitchen. The residents and nursing aid staff eat and socialize together at a single, long dining table.

Each week, Nina enjoys volunteering at a local 1st grade class where she reads with the students and teaches them songs she knows. She sings in a local choir and relishes being part of their performances in the town's church. She plays cards with a group at her local senior center, goes to concerts with her good friend, and tries her hand at painting classes in her town. She loves good books, good films, good food, and travel adventures. Although she is no longer on her town council, she remains politically active in her community and involved in local issues.

In the summer, five generations of her large family gather at a beach house for a week of swimming and hanging out. Occasionally, one or two of her great-grandchildren will come and stay with her for a few days.

Nina still loves to garden, and delights in having the neighborhood children join her at harvest time. She shares her vegetable bounty with her friends and neighbors, and her home is cheered by the colorful fresh flowers she grows.

Nina treasures her quiet time at home and often avails herself of an afternoon nap, but then she's up and out to her evening activities. She's enjoying these years without a constricting office schedule and has no intention of slowing down. She knows these years are precious, has friends who are taking the new wonder drugs that slow the aging process, and reflects upon that breed of tiny jellyfish that really never dies. In the meantime she has made plans for the end of her life, as she continues to make the best of the time she has.

Excerpted from 70Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade (in preparation)

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