My name is Leda Rosenthal and I am a 22-year-old caregiver and entrepreneur dedicated to making life-enhancing technologies accessible to caregivers and their loved ones. I have experienced the power of technology in my own home, and I am honored and excited to share my story with everyone at OPTIMIZE next month.
My caregiving journey began in 2015 when my mom was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease during my first year at college. Now, three years later, brain health and caregiving consume my life as my mom steadily progresses into the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
They call Alzheimer’s the slow goodbye, and each day, the truth of that metaphor becomes increasingly real for me. At only sixty years old, my mom’s cognitive, social and physical abilities scarcely resemble those of the woman who raised me. Yet, her essence remains. My mom’s hug is warm and familiar. Not for a second have I felt that she’s forgotten how much she loves me, even when she’s forgotten the context of our interaction—my mom’s reactions, such as the excitement when I first walk in the door, let me know that she’s there.
“Leda, I’ve missed you! It’s just so great having the kids around. It’s just so great—what has it been, six months?” she’ll ask.
“It’s great to see you too, Mom!” I’ll say back with a smile.
I ignore her question. I had only been gone for about thirty-minutes picking up groceries. Though most interactions with my mom remain pleasant, each one is a glaring reminder of the importance of both brain health and caregiving.
Looking at the disease from the outside, it is impossible to know exactly what goes on within my mom’s mind. Her thoughts are muddled, distorted, and broken beyond her own ability to decipher or articulate. Her once striking eloquence is quickly fading, and she is being robbed of her freedom to pursue the things she loves most. This is only the calm before the storm—the scariest and most challenging one of my life. What gives me hope is knowing that I am a part of the solution.
Alzheimer’s develops over 20 years before symptoms occur. Prevention is possible. Though the outcome of my mom’s clinical trial was unsuccessful, I have decades of clinical opportunities for which to avail myself. On a personal level, I also invest in my own brain health with diet, exercise, stress management and sleep regimes proven to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Beyond my personal life, I advocate for better disease management with the help of technology; it is my mission to make it simple for caregivers to discover technology to improve the quality of life for both themselves and their loved ones. I want my kids to live in a world where every caregiving challenge has a technological solution. Yet, we remain far from this goal.
According to a study done by AARP on Caregivers & Technology, 71% of families are interested in using technology to assist caregiving, but in 2016, only 7% used it. The greatest obstacle is the current marketplace structure. Despite the fact that there are hundreds of senior-specific, do-it-yourself and other applicable technology solutions that can enhance caregiving, families like mine struggle to adopt them. The marketplace is loaded with jargon and out-of-date links, making the entire technology discovery process unnecessarily confusing and time-consuming. As a result, innovators also struggle with distribution, which hinders efficient development.
While it is encouraging to see the quality and quantity of available caregiving technologies improving beyond my wildest dreams since my mom’s diagnosis, there is still much to be improved upon. Innovators—we need to streamline innovation, which requires feedback at scale. And in order to get feedback, we need the right families finding our solutions—shouldn’t we make the technology simple to find and understand? Wouldn’t it be great if we knew the exact use-case from which the feedback was coming, with no required effort from the user? There is a missing link between families and innovators, and the solution lies in a caregiver-centered marketplace that is also innovator facing.
This is where my company, Alz You Need, comes in. Founded following my own successes and failures with dementia assistive technology adoption and development, Alz You Need is a technology discovery platform that makes it simple for families to find viable technology solutions, adopt them, and share feedback.
It starts with a rigorously screened database of the marketplace. We are currently tracking over 200 companies across 40 criteria to gain a comprehensive understanding of each product’s value and ideal use case. We then ask families to tell us about their unique caregiving challenges and technological skills, which allows us to recommend technology that families not only want to use, but can use.
We eliminate stress and confusion, bringing the right technologies to the right families. We collect feedback on each product and deliver these insights directly to innovators—like the many who will be joining me at OPTIMIZE. While simultaneously increasing sales and decreasing R&D costs for innovators, the result is technology that can get better faster, as more families adopt and benefit from it.
Having both built and used dementia assistive technology, I understand the struggles with technology and caregiving on both ends. But I am hopeful. With a platform that is both caregiver- and innovator-facing, together, we will develop the life-changing technologies that families need. We can alleviate the suffering of millions of families who are in the midst of challenging health journeys and we are already on our way.
We hope you’ll join us.
To hear more from Leda, be sure to join us at the Aging2.0 OPTIMIZE Conference on Nov. 14-15 in San Francisco. For more information and to register, please visit aging2.com/optimize