- September 6, 2022
- Digital Health, Health Care Podcasts
For many of us, the thought of growing old fills us with dread and fear. The quest for eternal youth has been, well, eternal. Although if emergent data are to be believed, some scientists appear to be tantalizingly close to discovering the elixirs that will keep us younger for longer.
It is estimated that 80 percent of people over 65 have at least one chronic illness and 68 percent have two or more.1 It’s hardly a surprise then that everything seems harder as we get older – especially as we lose our independence and become reliant on others. And the decline can happen as soon as we retire from the workforce.
As part of the US Health and Retirement Study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health studied 5,422 individuals over a 10-year period. They found that retirees were 40 percent more likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those who were still working.2
It’s no wonder aging gets bad press.
But two women have joined forces to help us rewrite the endings of our stories.
In our final interview for our Women in Healthcare Leadership series which has explored how women in leadership are changing the face of healthcare, Jennifer Cain and Mariam Parineh explain how their tech start-up, Viva Valet, will transform and autonomize the way we age.
Two women in healthcare leadership try to bridge the gap
“We are creating something that has never been created before. We are creating a platform that will help our elders to live in a more independent, empowered way,” says Jennifer, who has held several leadership roles in a number of different organizations and countries throughout her 25-year career in the healthcare sector.
Infuriated by the lack of joined-up care for their own relatives and friends, Jennifer and Mariam were struck by the gaping hole in the way older people are supported in their quest to stay at home and age in place. The pair are now combining their expertise and insights to do something about it.
“I was alarmed when I saw what was happening to my 85-year-old Grandfather, who was living in Pennsylvania in the United States,” says Mariam, who lives in Malaysia. “He needed someone to help him, but we couldn’t find any services to support him. There was no one who could come in and do his cleaning, deliver meals, do his laundry, or even shovel snow.
“So, we wrote out our north star goals and business strategy and began to develop our company,” says Mariam, who is a serial entrepreneur and advisor to companies that are seeking to expand and innovate their business strategies across multiple sectors.
Jennifer and Mariam are creating one platform that brings together the various service providers people need access to as they get older.
Utilizing personal experience to make a change
“Our goal is to make it possible for people to get care in their own homes on their own terms. The question was how do we speed tech to this part of the population? How do we do it now?” Mariam says.
Jennifer and Mariam knew exactly where to go for the answers.
“We turned tech development upside down by going to the market first. And by going to the market, we mean we went directly to the source – elders living at home and their adult children who seek to support them from a distance. We dug deeply into the experiences of the people we want to help. We have taken their insights to build the services that will suit them best.
“It was really important to us that we understood how this product will be utilized by our customers and that we took the time to understand how people are aging in their own environments before we even developed the services that will be in our commercial offering. We want to meet them where they’re at, not where society thinks they should be,” Jennifer says.
Making the invisible visible
What they have learned has been fascinating.
“Older people have become invisible in our tech age. No one has been paying attention to this space in a meaningful way. Everyone is so focused on advancing technology that no one has stopped to think about how we can apply technology to the older population so that they can live with self-determination and autonomy,” Mariam says. “Our older members of society are solid gold when it comes to the experiences they have to share. Just because they are physically weaker does not mean in any way that they are mentally weaker”.
Viva Valet will work with vendors to provide customers with the kinds of services that will allow them to stay at home and live with dignity.
“The vendors will take care of all the things older people don’t necessarily want to do or are able to do. This will enable them to focus on the activities that they can do, like finding ways of contributing to the communities in which they live. This will allow them to continue to live with a sense of purpose,” Mariam says.
“Avoiding dependence on family members – particularly adult children – is crucial,” Jennifer says.
“All too often so much of the beauty of the relationship between a parent and an adult child gets tarnished when the child becomes the main carer. It’s just too much of a burden for both the parent and the child,” Jennifer says. And, with 4.3% of the US population alone forecast to be 85 years or older by 2050,3 it’s clear that demand for trusted service providers that address the needs of both parents and their adult children is only going to increase.
Women in healthcare leadership drive collaboration and inclusion
Underpinning Viva Valet is the highly collaborative and inclusive approach Jennifer and Mariam are taking to run the business, and they’re certainly not concerned about the emergence of competitors.
“When we see someone doing something similar, it means that there’s a need for our product. We look forward to learning from others. There’s definitely enough space for everyone. This market will grow and the needs are vast,” Mariam says.
Equally important is that employees feel they can bring their “whole selves to work”.
“We are looking at the totality of the way we build our business. This means we will be flexible in the way the work is structured and gets done because we fundamentally trust that people know how to perform. We also know that people excel at work when they are able to excel in their home lives, so we want to make sure this balance between work and home is just right,” Mariam says.
Jennifer and Mariam may well be the women in healthcare leadership who end the quest for eternal youth. If they get this right, they could redefine and destigmatize the aging process for good.
“We want to build an environment that we want to age into. We want people to feel seen, to feel visible. We are looking forward to feeling good about aging,” Jennifer says.
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