By the year 2020, 70% of the population will find themselves on the other side of 50. And despite the fact that many optimists call 70 “the new 40,” researchers agree that once you hit 40 — “new” or “old” — it’s a downhill slope.
Instead of throwing up our flabby arms and surrendering, we’re seeing a generation facing the slow decline of the senses with clever tech ideas to make aging more manageable and less humiliating. Whether it’s vision, hearing, memory or just driving skills that are beginning to dim — and, trust me, they will dim — technology is coming to the rescue.
Can’t SeeA personal fave is LED reading glasses. Donning a pair might stop you from ordering a regrettable dish in a darkened restaurant. Or, you can just blast the table with your smartphone light by downloading one of dozens of free flashlight apps. I like the one that turns on my camera flash.
What’s that you said? Thirty six million Americans face age-related hearing loss, often as a result of their wayward high-decibel pasts. Companies like SoundFest are banking on the fact that baby boomers are going to be yelling “What’d he say?” in theaters and on cellphones everywhere. The company’s app offers hearing assistance through your cellphone.
For graying matter, there’s software like Nintendo’s Brain Age that’s filled with puzzles that keep speed and thinking skills polished. You’ll feel like Charlie Gordon in Flowers for Algernon as you sort shapes and subtract numbers, but brain researchers swear by this. The crème de la crème of aging brains, Dakim’s BrainFitness software, has been clinically tested (although it costs $249).
Can’t DrivePerhaps the scariest aging person of all is the one behind the wheel. Again, technology is stepping up to keep us driving better, longer. Ford kicked off the assistive race with its self-parking car. GM’s new Cadillac seems like it has more sensors and GPS systems on it than NASA –- giving it nearly 360 degree camera systems. Volvo and Mercedes drivers can order driver alert and detection systems to warn them when a pedestrian makes a “b line” off the sidewalk or when you’re low on caffeine. Your car can actually help you keep your blood glucose levels up through unusual alliances like this one by Ford, Microsoft, Healthrageous and BlueMetal Architects.
Ultimately we’re looking at a future where cars drive themselves. LIDAR, Google’s self-driving vehicle project, uses a spinning array of laser receivers and emitters to create a 360 degree map of the road. Most components of driver-less cars: cameras, GPS, accelerometers, radar and ultrasound already exist. Car manufacturers are experimenting on how to package them together.
Of course, there’s a flip side to all of this. Maybe getting older — not seeing or hearing so well — is a gift. What if aging is just nature’s way of telling you to slow down and stop fretting over the little things –- like the newly sprouted chin hair you can’t see in the mirror. Diminishing senses may be our evolutionary protection, a protection that, thanks to technology, we might never get the chance to appreciate.