Good afternoon, ProviderNation.
What a crazy world we live in, and a very crazy time to live in it! Bouncing between coasts over the last two weeks has been a fascinating, reflective journey. The 2,841 miles that separate northern California from Washington, D.C., can feel more like the distance between the earth and the sun, depending on your perspective. Here’s mine.
I had the pleasure of being invited to two separate events put together by two organizations over the past two weeks. Invited may be a bit generous; our company—It’s Never 2 Late—was a sponsor at both events.
Exhibit A was the What’s Next Boomer Business Summit: Brilliantly choreographed by Mary Furlong, it brings together, in the same venue, venture capitalists, leaders in the field of aging, and start-up companies—big ideas looking for big money.
Fascinating conversations, trends popping up left and right, smart people who have been around for awhile, such as Laurie Orlov of Aging In Place Technology Watch and Steve Moran of Senior Housing Forum, mingling with fresh new faces that have fresh new ideas, like Katy Fike from Aging 2.0.—bright-eyed entrepreneurs looking to change lives, including their own, while dissecting aging issues and offering technology solutions.
One week later, flashing across the country, I was invited to attend the 2014 Dementia Thought Leader’s Summit, sponsored by the Dementia Action Alliance. This event was also exceptionally choreographed, this time a joint effort between Karen Love and Jackie Pinkowitz.
It included a fascinating group of policymakers, senior living operators, dementia experts, and, most poignantly, people living with dementia. It was an eclectic group of passionate people trying to get their arms around a complex and challenging problem.
It was an interesting juxtaposition, looking at these two events from the inside out, and from the outside in. My first thoughts were about the striking differences between the two groups. On the one hand was the investment event that included dozens of entrepreneurs looking for capital to drive the development of the widgets they hope can profitably change the paradigm for older adults across the spectrum, while, on the other hand and one week later, policy folks and thought leaders were demanding Senate hearings, White House conferences, and additional funding to educate the public to the painful reality of the dementia tsunami coming our way.
Many were seeking solutions both for the individuals themselves and for their loved ones and/or professional caregivers providing support. Hearing Michael Ellenbogen, a 56-year-old successful banking executive diagnosed five years ago, give a hands-on testimonial as to what it feels like to have a judge, who won’t even physically see him, take away all of his rights to manage his own finances, was powerful.
From a personal standpoint, that’s not a remote person who is 95 years old living in a nursing home. That’s me—Michael and I are about the same age. It reminded me how I felt three decades ago when Magic Johnson dramatically proclaimed he had HIV. That experience resonated with me as a young adult and completely changed my perspective. Michael’s words resonated in the same vein with me that day. When people see the world of dementia as “their” problem, they will start to own the solution, and change will happen. I live and work every day trying to help people with dementia. Thank you, Michael, for making it personal for me, and I apologize for not seeing it on my own.
The Fourth of July kicked in, and with a nice couple of days off (and a couple of Heinekens along the way), I started reflecting a bit on the realities of the separate events, and also what a cool country we live in. It really is not so much that the people at the events are that different; they just have different perspectives as to how to solve problems.
And those perspectives are shaped by their own life experiences. If you’re an entrepreneur, you are consumed with finding a niche for your product. If you’re a gerontologist or a policymaker, you will look for solutions within the current framework we live in, oftentimes with governmental help.
It isn’t that entrepreneurs are greedy, heartless people, nor is it that the policy folks all are dismissive of business—it’s creatively looking at ways to deal with a crisis of epic proportions and both sides acknowledging the other side is vital and relevant.
Our company is a great example of that. It’s been our honor to develop a technology experience that completely changes the lives of people living with dementia; we benefit thousands of lives a day with our content and engagement experiences delivered across the U.S. The idea was not thought up through the government; we saw a niche and for 15 years have tried to fill it.
However, if not for a multitude of external grants and governmental and foundation funding during our formative years in the early 2000s, we would not have survived as a company and be thriving today.
And along the way, dementia experts such as Juliet Holt from Brookdale and Kathleen Curry from EMA have continued to push us to make our product better, which in turn benefits more and more people. There’s not one unilateral solution—we all can feed on each other.
By the end of the July 4th weekend, as I swatted mosquitoes and watched a cool fireworks display in Wisconsin, it hit me how unique this all is. Our country allows, even encourages, the intersection of policy and profit to help make people’s lives better and solve problems.
We don’t always agree on the ideal solution, but passion on both sides will get us to a different place as we try to deal with the painful realities of dementia. I can see why people want to live in this glorious country. I’m glad I do.