CONNECTED HEALTH CONFERENCE • Boston, MA • October 25-27, 2017
By Dr. Joseph Kvedar
Last month I shared an update on my upcoming book, The New Mobile Age, and am excited to share a bit more about this work. We continue to hit our editorial milestones for an end of October launch at the Connected Health Conference, and as I’m reading the manuscript for the final time before sending it to the printer, I’m re-learning some important lessons–and enjoying the content! I’ve been honored to gather input from a long list of esteemed colleagues and wanted to share a few ideas I believe are critical in our thinking about the healthspan. Below is a sneak peek at two fundamental concepts we discuss in-depth in the book.
First some context. We’ve added 25 years to our lifespan in the last century through various public health innovations, but we haven’t provided tools to help us use those additional years in the most productive, fulfilling way. Instead, we’ve put folks in that demographic (those in the latter 25 years of their life) into a category of ‘old.’ They retire, are perceived as no longer adding value or, even worse, become a burden to their ‘sandwich generation’ adult children. We must turn aging from being a dreaded inevitability into something to be celebrated. My friend Jody Holtzman, who is quoted in the book, coined the term “Longevity Economy,” and defines it as the 100-plus million people in the United States over age 50 who account for $7.1 trillion in annual economic activity. He quite accurately notes that only in the eyes of the U.S. government would this population be viewed as a burden. Rather, we need to refocus on this group of older adults as an opportunity!
Now that we’ve extended the lifespan, our first priority should be to enhance the healthspan, by giving people the tools needed to improve their health and inspire them to maintain healthy lifestyle choices. If we do this right, we will turn this growing cohort of older adults from being seen as a burden to one that is remaining vital, connected and adding value. And of course, connected health is a big part of the solution. There are multiple dimensions at play, and I can’t cover it all here, but I want to touch on two areas that became clear to me while researching the book.
The first group of insights comes from another respected friend and colleague who is helping society rethink aging, Charlotte Yeh. Charlotte has written the Foreword for this book and has taught me several things in the process. Once I learned of her perspective, I became tuned into several reproducible findings in patients in my own clinical practice.
We’re used to thinking of predictors of longevity in a very scientific, dry way–measures such as exposure to tobacco, high blood pressure, blood cholesterol level and the like. Of course, these are valid and important, but Charlotte opened my eyes to a different set of important measures. One is a sense of purpose. There is a lot of research on this and we cover it in the book, but anecdotally, as I’ve spoken with my own patients, I’ve seen this come to life. People who have some purposeful activity they pursue in retirement are healthier. The second is social connections. Again, there is a remarkable body of evidence on this, and it turns out that isolation eats away at an individual and has the same effect on health as multiple packs of cigarettes a day! Finally, physical activity. This can range from taking the stairs or walking each day to going to the gym or even remaining a competitive athlete.
None of these measures are unique to aging, but to strip away the traditional, clinical science and break it down into these three simple predictors was liberating for me. Of course, the bonus is that connected health can play a role in all three, whether it is participating in the gig economy to drive purpose, being active on social media or FaceTime to keep up social connections, or tracking your steps on a Fitbit. All of these challenges are made easier by modern technology.
The second important insight driving new, increasing opportunities for personal health technologies has to do with managing chronic illness. As much as we’d all like to stay healthy all our lives and die peacefully at a ripe old age, the fact is we all suffer from system wear and tear and require more illness management as time goes on. We are at the breakpoint as a society, to provide the resources needed to do this. Very soon, we won’t have enough healthcare providers and caregivers to tend to the aging population if we only rely on one-to-one care delivery models. We spend a lot of time in The New Mobile Age talking about how to use technology to create one-to-many care delivery models.