Rethinking How Technology Can Improve the Quality of Life of our Aging Population

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by Nicola Palmarini and Sheila Zinck

According to the United Nations, more than one out of five people will be age 60 or older by 2050. If the explosion of mobile connectivity was the biggest technology shift of the early 21st century, the worldwide aging population is the biggest demographic shift – one with the potential to impact many sectors of the economy.

The dramatic growth is forcing us to rethink how new technologies, partnerships, and business models can help ensure the health, wellness, safety, and security of our parents and grandparents. Many industries and governing bodies are just beginning to acknowledge and confront this important reality, but now is the time to invest in, care for, protect, and empower our aging population so they can live longer, healthier and more independent lives.

Outthink Aging, a new report released from IBM and the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, outlines the challenges of meeting the needs of the aging demographic, together with recommendations for three core areas where the intersection of mobile devices and cognitive computing could have the greatest impact on seniors, including their families and caregivers.

According to the report, existing point solutions and business models can fall short in addressing the diverse needs of the global aging population. By leveraging new technology, such as cognitive computing and the Internet of Things, and forming entirely new ecosystems (that include technology firms, device manufacturers, healthcare organizations, non-profits, governmental agencies, and more), we will be able to help people better manage everyday activities, extend their independence, connect with friends and family, and enrich their quality of life.

Shifting from a business-to-consumer model, the creation of a new eco-system approach will integrate informal and formal support and resources for older adults, while providing personalized and adaptive solutions to match the needs of different communities and customers.

IBM and CTA Foundation worked with the IXL Center for Innovation and Excellence through their Innovation Olympics program that challenged university and business school student teams – from Babson College, Columbia University, Hult International Business School, Stanford University, and University of Texas – to leverage their knowledge and skills to improve digital accessibility and engagement for the aging population.

Through their work and research, the top recommendations for innovation and collaboration include:

  • New Partnerships that Deliver Knowledge-as-a-Service: Today, non-profits and agencies connect with a range of individual partners, (e.g., financial institutions), to provide services such as healthcare discounts, insurance plans, travel benefits, intellectual community involvement, and entertainment. Rather than a one-to-one relationship with a single non-profit or agency, the reports suggests that partners could tap into a central cognitive computing platform that combines consumer preferences, industry data, and public information, uniquely and securely. This will help older adults and caregivers get answers they need, simply and easily. The availability of large-scale, integrated sets of consumer data, combined with the power of cognitive computing would give agencies and technology providers new insights and knowledge needed to quickly develop targeted new offerings and expanded partnerships.
  • A Cognitively-Powered “Town Square”: Aging individuals want to stay connected within a community, one that provides support, services, social opportunities, advice, and more. While some communities are lucky to have a central physical space for its residents to gather and share stories, others are turning to technology to help provide that important sense of connection. Leveraging a cognitive platform such as IBM Watson with its standard APIs, any number of entities – from cities, towns, agencies, hospital networks, or telecommunication vendors, could quickly build a virtual community platform, personalized to each person’s unique physical and cognitive abilities. Partners could easily plug-in their services and offerings, creating a customized, scalable and extensible online experience ranging from home repair, shopping, medical support, educational opportunities and social events.
  • Prevention of Elder Fraud: Most fraud management systems and solutions are designed for a general population, and not an aging population, despite the fact that seniors are more vulnerable. Using a cognitive platform, banking and investment institutions could integrate existing financial models – together with market data, government and regulatory agency reporting, as well as monitoring financial transactions – to build a comprehensive financial persona for elderly individuals. This would define elements such as how they spend, how they purchase, what they do, and what kind of fraudulent activities are happening – all critical information that can feed back into the financial model and fraud detection systems, continuously and instantly.

To Outthink Aging we need a new vision, including how we assess the needs of the aging demographic, and develop and deliver solutions for an entirely new market.

IBM is committed to playing a pivotal role in addressing the challenges of our aging population and working with partners to create solutions that reduce isolation, promote wellness and transform the way they interact as physical and cognitive abilities decline.

For more information and to download the report, please visit

About the authors

Nicola Palmarini is Global Technology Advocate for the Strategic Initiative on Aging for IBM Accessibility Research. He helps customers all over the world accelerate their digital and social transformation for better inclusion of the world’s aging population and people with disabilities, fostering diversity as a competitive advantage. Follow Nicola on Twitter.

Sheila Zinck works on the IBM Accessibility Research team, with a focus on strategy and market requirements for solutions designed to improve everyone’s experience with technology.

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