Aging With Grace - And Technology

Director Tim Burton turns his back to the papparazzi as he ealks the red carpet for the screening of "The Da Vinci Code," at the opening night of the 59th International Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2006. Burton's wife, actress Helena Bonham Carter, is a festival jury member. AP Photo/Francois Mori

Every seven seconds in this country, a baby boomer hits the half-century mark.

In the 21st century, boomers will make up the largest segment of the elderly population, and as medical advances help them to live longer, technology is going to help them live better, as CBS News' Thalia Assuras reports for Eye on America.
It's barely dawn in Fort Wayne, Ind., but every seat in Tiny Tim's diner is already taken.

The most popular person here, hands down, is Marcia Gevers, legally blind for seven years, but now blessed by technology.

"I'm looking at something on the menu called the Monte Cristo," she says with a laugh.

She can now see, using a sophisticated electronic device that combines powerful magnification and contrast.

"That's fantastic. It's just like a TV set," says her husband.

With a playful nod to a Star Trek character, the device is called a Jordy.

"What you're seeing is the first wave of technological innovation really focusing in on older adults," says Joseph Coughlin, who heads the Agelab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where researchers are looking at the needs of the nation's fastest growing population.

"Technology has already made us live longer. The challenge today is whether technology will make those extra years we have worth living," he says.

And that means integrating technology into the daily lives of the aging. MIT's Tom Sheridan developed a home-health monitoring station that can relay personal medical data to doctors or hospitals miles away.

"It takes the load off the emergency room," says Sheridan. "It takes the load off of the individual patient, in terms of anxiety, and of course, the stress is the big killer all by itself."

And that's not all. Flo, created at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is a robot nurse and companion that can conduct at-home checkups, relaying results through computer connections.

"We're going to see a lifestyle of active aging," Coughlin says.

And maintaining mobility is key. Auto makers are now designing cars with older people in mind. Pedals in some Fords move with the press of a button, providing easier access.

Marcia Gevers of Indiana perhaps knows better than anyone the downside to all this high technology: the price. The Jordy costs $3,500, much more than she could ever afford.

"Everybody thought it at the same time. We said, 'We've got to do something,'" says Patty Oettling.

Friends at the diner and in town all chipped in, and now Gevers has her sight back.

"Everybody cried in here. And if you didn't cry, I'd say you had a problem," says Carol Whitlow.

Concludes Gevers: "The fact that the technology exists is an important miracle. But just as important is the fact that all those people cared enough about an old blind woman to make this happen."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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