Dr. Joseph Coughlin brings Central New Yorkers together to discuss aging, technology

The Central New York community came together Thursday to discuss technology, aging and their effects on the community at the Innovative Aging Symposium event, which began at at City Hall Commons and continued at Menorah Park later that evening.

The daylong event, sponsored by MedTech, Impara and the SUNY Oswego Metro Center, included a community forum that featured keynote speaker Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin of the MIT AgeLab and a panel discussion with prominent figures in the health care industry.

Both events attracted a large crowd, with community members from throughout Central New York attending the afternoon community forum and representatives from major industry companies such as Welch Allyn, MedTech, SUNY Upstate Medical Center, the Syracuse Veterans’ Association and St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“Joseph Coughlin opened our eyes to a lot of things we had never thought of before,” said Charlotte “Chuckie” Holstein, moderator for the community forum. “I think a lot of people who attended had new ideas that were fostered by his speech.”

Dr. Joseph Coughlin addressed two audiences at City Hall Commons and Menorah Park in Syracuse.

Bridging the camp with technology

Coughlin’s presentation focused on the changing role technology, caregivers, companies and organizations will play in the future to help aging members of the Syracuse community continue to live healthy, fulfilling lives.

“Now that we have achieved the greatest success story – longer life – we have to fill in the blanks,” Coughlin said.

Coughlin explained events that discussed aging, like the Innovative Aging Symposium, were necessary to have in order to prepare for the growing aging population.

“One boomer turns 66 every six to seven seconds,” he said. “Longevity is the new normal.”

Coughlin stressed that an aging population will affect more than just health care; it is on every corporate and government agenda and will change the future of technology.

“How will new technology in old age change business? Gerontology? Government agencies?” he asked. “What has yet to be invented that will emerge soon?”

New technology has already emerged as a result of the way people age; Coughlin spoke about how Telehealth, a system that allows patients to have a doctor’s appointment via video conference, began as a result of 70 percent of Americans over 50 living in suburban and rural areas.

“SUNY Oswego’s certificates basically are cutting edge models of what the next generation of the health care workforce is going to need. They’re not just generating education that’s necessary, but Oswego is producing the workforce that can care and serve an aging nation”
Dr. Joseph Coughlin, director, MIT AgeLab

It was the high-tech gadgets that intrigued the attendees, like spoons that could calculate the nutritional content of food and send it to your doctor (“Or even worse – my wife!”) and smart toilets that can determine body temperature, weight and if you’re taking your medication, then pass along the information to a hospital.

But it was the “pharm animals” that hit the audience the hardest. Two toys connected to grandparent and grandchild via a pager-like system that track if the child does their homework or the grandparent takes their medication. If one fails to keep up with their side of the bargain, the other’s pharm animal gets sick.

“What would motivate you to take your medication more, your daughter who calls to check but doesn’t even say hello or your grandchild asking ‘Grandpa? Why is my buddy sick?’” Coughlin said.

Coughlin engaged the crowd from the beginning, joking that participation was ten percent of the audience’s final grade.

And the audience responded – at both events, attendees were spotted taking notes and contributing to the conversation during the audience question and answer session.

New technology and changing education drove the discussion. Audience members wanted to know what to do next to ensure the aging portion of their community could continue to do so gracefully.

Mainstream aging

“We need to mainstream aging,” Coughlin said. “It needs to become commonplace.”

New technology changes the skills health professionals need to have. Employees need to be more than just medically proficient but technology and service proficient as well, he said.

“SUNY Oswego’s certificates basically are cutting edge models of what the next generation of the health care workforce is going to need,” he said.  “They’re not just generating education that’s necessary, but Oswego is producing the workforce that can care and serve an aging nation.”

Coughlin stressed that Central New York had the potential to be the forerunner to change how the aging population lives and how they are received.

“With SUNY Oswego as a catalyst and Syracuse as a resource, you can be pioneers and redefine what it means to age in small cities and rural areas,” Coughlin said.

Despite its reputation, aging is innovative, according to Coughlin.

“Old age demands new thinking,” he said. “And you have the resources to change it.”