How AI Help an Aging Population Stay Healthier and Happier
Loneliness and social isolation is making old age look unattractive, but AI is changing the narrative.
While in hospital recovering from surgery, Satoshi was lonely, and his mental health was suffering. Vision impairment also compounded his emotional stress and so did the challenges of post-surgery recovery. He couldn’t watch tv, he couldn’t use devices with visual interfaces, and as a result, couldn’t complete seemingly straightforward tasks — check the time, call loved ones, listen to the news.
His family decided to set him up with a voice-enabled speaker. The device reminded him to take his medication and connected him to his family — as he didn’t need to tap and interact with the device visually. He asks the speaker for news and weather updates, music and audio book tips and crossword puzzle clues. He sometimes asks it to tell him a joke.
Now out of the hospital, Satoshi continues to use his smart speaker. The device has become an essential part of his daily routine, it provides companionship, and reduces his external dependence. Satoshi’s positive experience with a voice assistant is an example of how innovative technology can provide social companionship, improve mental health, and thereby physical health of the elderly in an aging society.
Population aging — the increase of the share of older individuals in a society due to fertility declines and rising life expectancy — is an irreversible global trend with far-reaching economic and socio-political consequences. These ageing trends are steering global demographics into uncharted territory, transforming populations and societies around the globe. By 2050, it’s estimated that at least 40 percent of the population in Japan, Germany, Italy, and Singapore will be over the age of 60. For the United Kingdom, Canada, United States and Brazil, it’s anticipated that proportion will stand at 30 percent.
What does this mean for society?
Population aging will likely lead to declining labor forces, lower fertility, and an increase in the age dependency ratio, the ratio of working-age to old-age individuals. To illustrate, while there were 10 workers for every person older than 64 in the world in 1970, the expected number in 2050 is only four; it will even be less than two in some European countries.
A growing number of senior citizens puts greater pressure on care resources, which are often already stretched. The impact is already being felt in a lot of countries including the US which is projected to face a shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 physicians by 2030.
Many elderly people are also reluctant to leave their homes, wanting to live in familiar surroundings for as long as possible. However, issues with mobility, dementia, and memory loss, failing sight and hearing and loneliness are all areas where people may need support as they get older. As a result, the situation would also pose a challenge to the fiscal and macroeconomic stability of many societies through increased government spending on pension, healthcare, and social benefits programs for the elderly. This may hurt economic growth and overall quality of life if governments need to divert public spending from education and infrastructure investment to finance programs for the elderly.
Population aging will likely lead to declining labor forces, lower fertility, and an increase in the age dependency ratio, the ratio of working-age to old-age individuals.
The power of AI
Given the aging demographic, healthcare providers are starting to relinquish certain parts of their duties to AI-based automatization. Artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionized not only how patients and their families interact and understand the treatment pathways but has also help clinicians and caregivers to offer more efficient medical services. This technology fulfils unaddressed needs that were not in the past, starting from intelligent tracking of biometric information to early diagnosis of diseases. Here are some of the ways it simplifies life for the elderly.
Early Detection of Disease
AI is making strides in the early detection of disease that in the future could significantly reduce the burden of chronic disease and allow people to live healthier lives for longer. Good progress has already been seen in eye disease, cancer, and even predicting Alzheimer’s disease years before diagnosis.
As computing power increases and algorithms become more sophisticated, predictive prevention has the potential to transform public health and prevent people from developing conditions. Better use of public data combined with digital tools and an understanding of wider determinants of health will give us the ability to better identify risks and help the people most in need, before they become patients.
Big data — huge data sets that can be analyzed to identify patterns and trends — and AI are heralding a new era of personalized medicine, where treatments are customized for individual patients, that will revolutionize how we manage peoples’ health. By bringing together biological, clinical and lifestyle information, we can paint a unique picture of each patient and target therapies to achieve the best outcomes in the prevention or management of a patient’s disease.
Medication Management Systems
When was the last time you forgot to take a dose? While this might seem a not-so-big deal, such mishaps become more serious as one age. According to a report in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, medication noncompliance costs the healthcare system between $100 and $300 billion per year. Reasons for noncompliance range from forgetting to pick up medication or forgetting to take it on time to refusing to comply because of denial about sickness or avoidance of side effects.
Thankfully, we now have sensor-enabled packaging which can track the number of pills left in a container and send alerts via a smartphone app when it’s time to take more or reorder a prescription. The same technology can be applied to prevent dehydration: Sensors can track the amount of liquid left in a container and alert a senior when it’s time to take another drink.
Individual pills, roughly the size of a pea, can also be embedded with ingestible sensors. Once the pill reaches the stomach, it sends a signal to an external device, such as a patch worn on the body, to ensure proper dosage and usage. The patch records data and relays it to the patient and a health care professional. Patients also have access to the information through a smartphone app so they can see how they’re doing and work to improve their habits.
A Smarter, Safer Home
Through networks of connected devices, sensors, and cognitive systems, AI and IoT is enabling family members and caregivers to proactively monitor the health and well-being of elderly people, especially those with mobility issues. These sensor-laden gadgets include ovens, refrigerators, thermostats, lighting fixtures and security systems — all connected to the internet to enable people to monitor and control their homes wherever they are.
A lot of seniors have now begin to create some form of relationship with AI-powered chatbots which delivers round-the-clock information that has been authorized by the healthcare professionals. They provide specific answers to health-related questions, and they even have the capacity to book appointments if the issues are serious.
These technologies have several benefits for seniors that go beyond convenience: They also increase security and peace of mind. IoT-equipped alarm systems can detect home intruders and call emergency contacts or first responders in cases of adverse events like kitchen fires and even falls.
Ramping Up the Accessibility of Transport
Access to transport is a key issue faced by the elderly, who may be dealing with declining eyesight, hearing, reflexes, and mobility. Thanks to the development of AI solutions like Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and fully autonomous vehicles. These machines contribute to taking the human effort out of driving, and turning AI into an ever more important co-pilot, helping vehicles maintain lanes and distances, helping with emergency braking parking in tight spots, monitoring cross-traffic and blind spots, and even taking over control to avoid accidents.
AI as Companions
Humans are generally social by nature, and high-quality social relationships can help them live longer, healthier lives. It, therefore, becomes detrimental when one is starved of it. But globalization has seen families increasingly dispersing more widely and gaining more commitments on their time and are becoming less likely to interact with elderly relatives. Research shows that up to 31% of people 60 and older in Japan have no close friends — a situation that has forced the government to create a full-fledged ministry in an attempt to reduce loneliness and social isolation. Evidence suggests that supporting older people to participate fully in social life will help them to remain active and healthy for longer into later life, as well as helping people to recover when they do fall ill. Digital technologies can act as a broker for social experiences that facilitate real-world interactions and reduce social isolation.
AI is now routinely employed by pharmaceutical companies and in virtually every stage of the drug discovery process by reducing repetitive, time-consuming tasks. One of the biggest impacts of AI is in helping anti-aging researchers, understand the very process of aging and thereby paving the way towards pharmaceutical innovations that extend a person’s lifespan. This is achieved by pairing AI with one of the simplest of organisms to enlighten the scientific community about the physical and chemical properties of drug compounds with anti-aging effects. This has helped to understand the fundamental biology of aging, with instances like Insilico Medicine, a drug development company that uses AI to explore ways to end aging and age-related diseases, and Nuritas, a company that uses AI to find bioactive peptides in the food we eat for applications including anti-aging.
With a growing market of elderly people every year and a shortage of skilled labor, governments across the world should be looking to employ AI to bridge the gap. The technology has proven to be a formidable solution, and that has led to the continued growth in its demand.
Though it has garnered lots of accolades, AI still at an early stage in the overall market lifecycle and thus there it has very few real-world implementations so far. This should, therefore, serve as a wake-up call to families, healthcare workers and the seniors to adopt these new innovations as a gamechanger.
The policymakers to ensure the care technology has all the needed policies and funding. Researchers and companies working in the AI space are not excluded. They should help further how a new application can benefit members of the burgeoning elderly population who are struggling to maintain their quality of life as they age.