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OPINION

How to build a living laboratory

Greater Boston, and New England beyond it, has the potential to become the Longevity Hub: a world-leading driver of innovation for aging populations. Improving aspects of later life, however, can have cascading effects.

Heather Hopp-Bruce
Adobe/Globe Staff

Greater Boston, and New England beyond it, has the potential to become the Longevity Hub: a world-leading driver of innovation for aging populations. Improving aspects of later life, however, can have cascading effects. It’s hard to address one facet without affecting others. At the neighborhood scale, for instance, it’s hard to think through improvements to affordable housing without also considering what that will mean for transportation — and, in turn, what changes in transportation will mean for accessibility. Similarly, at the individual scale, it’s difficult to boost someone’s nutrition — say, via a smart fridge — without also considering the impacts on their privacy and cybersecurity, to say nothing of their health. And so on.

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One way the Longevity Hub can gain a deeper understanding of these sorts of complex, nested systems is to turn neighborhoods and towns throughout New England into living laboratories. Neighborhood-level research could assess the efficacy of the region’s innovations: deciding which are coming up short, and which have the potential to truly improve quality of life for aging adults, their caregivers, and their communities.

Joseph Coughlin, MIT AgeLab