Innovating Against Isolation
Since its inception in 1958, AARP has built up to become one of the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organizations in the U.S. With nearly 2,300 staff members and 60,000 volunteers maintaining the organization’s mission to assist their nearly 38 million members age 50 and over, AARP is an important organization that requires a passionate leader. Thankfully, that leader is Jo Ann Jenkins.
Serving as the CEO of AARP since 2014, Jenkins has brought enthusiasm for positive social change, emphasizing a better quality of life for our aging population. This passion is best exemplified in her bestselling book Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age, in which she attempts to change how we societally look at the aging process and add a positive spin on the second half of our lives. In this exclusive interview from CES 2019, Jenkins discusses the importance of using tech to reduce isolation and what she hopes for AARP to achieve this year.
Innovation & Tech Today: Is this your first time at CES with AARP?
Jo Ann Jenkins: It’s my first time, but my colleagues in AARP have been showing up here at CES for a number of years and really showcasing and constantly engaging with companies who are creating new products and services that meet the needs of the 50-plus.
I&T Today: What has AARP been showcasing at CES this year?
JJ: AARP is here at CES excited to not only have our booth where we’re showcasing a number of new products that we’re putting in the market, but also really roam all of the exhibit floors to see what new technology is out there that might be usable by our 38 million members that we have all across the country. It’s been an exciting time to see autonomous vehicles and the new products around medication management and artificial intelligence. It’s been an exciting time for all of us.
I&T Today: What is one type of tech that has caught your eye?
JJ: I think one of the things that we’re most excited to see is all of the new technologies in the smart home. How people are being able to live more independently in their own homes and the related technologies from Kohler and the new technologies around presetting the temperature of water so that when you get into that shower or you’re turning on that water in the faucet, they’re not scalded or you’re not too cold.
We’re also excited about the new advancements we’re seeing in autonomous cars, because that’s going to help address isolation and allow people to move and perhaps even get some medical assistance while in this transport. But generally just looking to see what new, cutting-edge products are out there that help address isolation and help with connectedness around caregiving and medication management and health care. So there’s a lot of good stuff that we’re seeing this year.
I&T Today: How has AARP been utilizing technology to help alleviate isolation among people over 50?
JJ: We’ve been engaged at AARP in addressing the issues of isolation for many years, and we know that technology is one part of a total solution to help address this isolation. You still have to have that human touch and one-on-one communication, but technology goes a long way in connecting that grandparent or friend to a loved one who might live across the country or somewhere else in the world.
We can see how seriously companies are taking this issue of isolation, partly because they may have someone in their own family who’s experiencing some of these issues. We know that people who are isolated are more likely to have depression and more likely to have six or seven other major causes of disease, like obesity and hypertension and diabetes, than someone who is connected and has real meaning and purpose in their lives.
I&T Today: What is one thing you most want to see AARP accomplish between now and 2020?
JJ: I think one of the things that we’re so excited about at AARP is we’re really trying to be everyday innovators in aging. And so, CES is a great opportunity for us to come here and see what’s new on the market, to find the right partners for us to make sure that we’re at the cutting edge of not only what our members want today, but what they’re going to want in the future and how that’s going to help them stay connected to their families and friends.