Frances West

Age and Ability in the Cognitive Era

Our parents and grandparents represent one of the most complex societal and economic challenges facing nations as they struggle with increasing costs of healthcare and decreasing numbers of caregivers. People aged 60 and older currently make up approximately 12 percent of the global population, and by 2050, that number will rise to almost 22 percent, according to the United Nations.

The challenge then becomes helping the elderly easily adapt to a technology-driven world, prolong their independence, stay more connected with friends and family, and help manage life’s everyday decisions.

As we enter the cognitive era, we have an incredible opportunity to augment our ability to better understand – and make more informed decisions – about our health, wealth and our overall happiness. Cognitive computing is a fundamentally new way for individuals and organizations to gain knowledge by “hearing” the complexities of natural language, “reading” and analyzing vast amounts of information, “seeing” images, and helping humans better engage with other people or systems, based on the mode and form that an individual prefers.cci_cognitive

Cognitive computing can help our aging population as they acquire physical and cognitive disabilities. This means adapting the means of information delivery, creating an optimal balance between accessibility, privacy and security, and most importantly, allowing family members, doctors and caregivers to proactively monitor the health & well-being as conditions change.

For example, we are already seeing the first stages of research in the area of speech analysis as IBM is analyzing how changes in voice patterns could help doctors increase the accuracy of identifying and treating dementia. We are also investigating how adding sensors inside elderly persons’ homes can help caregivers, doctors and social services organizations monitor patterns in temperature, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels, and electricity and water usage in order to determine which room someone was in, how long they were there, and their daily routines.

We realize that the aging population’s needs are multifaceted and not easily met through traditional methodological approaches or technology solutions. The effectiveness of new cognitive systems relies not just on an accessible interface or on the sensors in a person’s home or on their body, but also the quality of the analytics: how information is sifted, processed, learned and how structured data is integrated with other forms of unstructured data from social activities and informal care provision.

This could take the form of mobile applications built around a grandmother’s daily needs that keep her more connected to family, caregivers and doctors, and enable proactive alerts about medications, reminders about exercise and dietary recommendations. All of this is based on real time, personalized analytics, combining health record data with consumer data from wearable devices and sensors around the home.

We can further expand the application to provide better support to the individual’s participation in community activities by analyzing environmental factors such as current weather conditions and traffic patterns. All these insights, combined with personal technology, such as text-to-speech, voice and facial recognition, multi-modal authentication and location-based services, could help deliver information in the most consumable way and help improve the user’s overall human experience.

There is no doubt the process of aging can be a complicated and challenging journey. However, equipped with the right information personalized to one’s ability, we can help ease the transition and improve the experience when the fateful day arrives when we can’t move as fast, see or hear as well, or remember a menial task.

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