Editor's Note: This is an entry in our Scholarship Contest for Patients and Caregivers to attend the Mayo Clinic Social Media Summit Oct. 17-21 in Rochester, Minn. See this post
for more details on the contest, and please cast your votes by liking or commenting on the candidates you think would be best.
Here is Matthew Rogers’ Essay:
As a medical student interested in geriatrics, I have frequently found myself thinking about what my life as an old person might look like in the future. For a long time, the prospect of growing old was an unpleasant and sometimes terrifying idea. But recently as I tried to picture myself as an 80-year old in a nursing home, it suddenly occurred to me: growing old will be a blast as long as I have my Xbox and some Wi-Fi.
I’ve been playing videogames for over 20 years, and it’s unlikely I’ll stop playing games and surfing the Internet, no matter how old I get. In fact, I’ll probably have more time for gaming and net surfing than is possible amid medical school and working life.
Online engagement by older adults is growing exponentially with the rise of easier-to-use smartphones, tablet computers, and motion-controlled videogames like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect. Although most current 90-year-olds aren’t digitized enough to fully participate in our blossoming online culture, the situation is rapidly changing.
Personally, I’ve already encountered older adults using technologies in ways that would have been difficult to imagine even 5 years ago. As a medical student, I have been following and participating in the care of Mrs. K, an 83-year-old homebound woman in New York. She uses an iPhone, and we have an ongoing game of Words With Friends. Using the chat function within the game, she was able to ask me a question about an upcoming appointment with her nephrologist. In college I helped coach my friend’s 70-year-old father on how to optimize his spell inventory in the computer game Diablo II. Now another friend’s mother is coaching me on how best to expand my Farmville estate. It won’t be long before grandmothers are teaching their grandchildren Beatles songs from across the country on Rock Band.
If we imagine a fully wired nursing home with an iPad or Xbox in every room, craft hour with a box of crayons begins to feel obsolete, to say the least. The collaborative multimedia produced by a group of geriatric artists would certainly rival anything to come out of Warhol’s Factory. And what if older people “re-skinned” a Google Map of New York to recreate the city as they remember it in the 1950s? The possibilities quickly become mind-boggling.
Health is inextricably tied to our social lives, and a digitized elderly community has enormous implications for healthcare innovation. Advances in artificial intelligence and natural language processing are advancing at a science fictional pace: Algorithmic analyses of older adults’ online writing could monitor for semantic declines in function indicative of multi-infarct dementia or depression. Similarly, we can imagine movement-based games capable of monitoring patients’ range of motion and adjusting game tasks accordingly to strengthen patients’ weaknesses.
A fully digitized generation of elders is an exciting inevitability. Although researchers and Internet developers are increasingly beginning to think about these possibilities, we need to be doing more if we hope to fully realize the potential of a digitized elderly community. Shaping the Internet toward promoting the health and happiness of older people is a multidisciplinary endeavor that will require a more imaginative and coordinated collaboration between Internet developers, physicians, and importantly, patients themselves.
I recently decided to postpone my last year of medical school to pursue a degree in applied medical informatics so I’ll be more equipped to participate in this work. Besides being a medical student and avid gamer, I’ve also worked at a Japanese TV station. I’ve also worked at a Japanese medical translation company, where I helped develop an online medical social network for physicians. As a junior fellow of the American Federation of Aging Research, I conducted a study on older patient satisfaction and physician communication. I hope to use my background in media, geriatrics research, informatics, as well as my extensive gaming skills to be an active proponent in the work of advancing the elder-gamer-net-surfer revolution.
Attending the Health Care Social Media Summit would be an unspeakably awesome opportunity, and I would be enthusiastic to add my perspective to the conference.
Follow me on Twitter @rogersmatthew