It’s no surprise: The population in the US, in many European countries, and in fact, in many other countries around the world is aging. According to the US Census Bureau, for the first time in US history, by 2035 there will be more older adults in the US than children. Japan already has the world’s oldest population, with more than one quarter of the population at or over the age of 65. Europe is moving in that direction, with some Western European countries, such as such as Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, having populations that are older than that of the US.
Besides having vast social and economic consequences, these demographic trends also underscore the need for technologies that can assist older adults as well as those individuals, whether friends, family, or professional caregivers, as well as businesses that support the lives and specialized needs of this aging population.
Several technology trends that are focused on monitoring, protecting, and assisting older adults are especially worth noting in 2019. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, as this has become a rapidly expanding market. Rather, we focus here on particularly interesting advanced technologies that may have a substantial impact in the future.
Of course there is a lot of overlap, but from an applications perspective, we can divide these technologies into two high level categories:
- Technologies that support
- Technologies that prevent
Some devices that prevent that prevent harm focus on preventing people from taking actions that would harm themselves, such as wandering, forgetting to turn off the stove, or simply not being able to get up after taking a fall at home or in some remote location.
Integration with AI
For some years now, we’ve already seen GPS trackers, and IoT sensors to assist with these harm-prevention approaches, generating simple alerts, either to the individuals themselves or to loved ones. We’re now starting to see more advanced technologies layered on top of these devices, such as AI. Now, with predictive analytics, rather than just getting a message that says, “Aunt Lucy has gotten out of her bed” (motion sensor based for local tracking) or even “Grandma has left the house and is walking north on Main Street” (GPS based for larger area tracking) we can be told whether Grandma’s movements are within her normal behavioral patterns or whether we should be concerned that she may be in the process of getting lost.
Other advances include devices that don’t just sense and provide alerts (“Are you sure you remembered to take your medicine today?”) but actively intervene, either by phoning emergency responders or by turning on or off some piece of equipment based on a physiological or environmental monitor. Yep, Uncle Georg seems to have forgotten to turn off the stove again and appears to be napping in his favorite chair; let’s turn off the stove for him before the house burns down (see for example, CookStop(TM).
Some of these devices are based on motion sensors… this may not work for things like slow-cooking pot roasts, where it might be perfectly legitimate to take a nap while cooking! Perhaps in a future product release we need to incorporate a sensor that can identify the nature of the cooking by smell! More seriously, house fires from forgotten stoves are a significant hazard, and it’s a big step forward to see devices like this made available. The point here is that more advanced hardware and software solutions can start to provide more sophisticated interventions.
Even for simple alert systems (as in the medicine monitoring example given earlier), we are starting to see advanced technologies that may be integrated to provide for much more sophisticated alerting. Maybe the medication alert is no longer just sensing whether you opened the bill bottle but is instead tied in to a wearable, real-time bio-sensor that is actively monitoring the biochemical content of your sweat, to determine your health levels for your particular condition.
Here is one such example from last year – but it is certainly not the only one. Innovation at both universities and company R&D facilities is leaping forward in this hot area of R&D.
Protecting the elderly from abuse
Other technologies that serve to prevent harm are used more to protect the elderly from abuse. Most of us would like to think this doesn’t happen, or won’t happen to someone we care about, but the reality is, it does occur. Fortunately, people have been thinking about how to prevent it.
Again, some technologies have been around for a long time – like audio (or video) monitors, perhaps originally designed as baby monitors but equally applicable to being able to keep an eye on an aging relative. Here, too, we are starting to see advanced technologies such as AI being integrated with older monitors, to start sensing and predicting patterns, as abuse often begins with subtle signs that are easily missed.
With all of these technologies there is room for concern about privacy, and choices need to be made in individual cases, about where the right balance is for that person at that time. More advanced monitoring will generally (perhaps not always) mean less privacy.
The other category of technologies serves to actively promote and augment what older adults can do. This is a fascinating topic in and of itself, and we’ll address these in a second, separate article.
The photo was provided by rawpixel on Unsplash!