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Written by: Priscilla Rogers, IBM Senior Manager – Cognitive Health & Life Sciences Research
What happens when we all live to 100?
A centenary of life was once a rare privilege, with just 120 Australians reaching 100 only 40 years ago. Today we have more than 3,000 centenarians and this is estimated to increase to 40,000 by 2055. The Royal Family will certainly have their work cut out for them in writing that many letters to our ageing Aussies!
Globally, we’re expecting the ageing population (over-65-year-olds) to double in the next 20 years, disrupting economies as the costs for caring for seniors also doubles. The reality is, the ageing population is the greatest challenge facing our economic infrastructures today. There is a critical need to relieve the strain that is already starting to fall on our health and social systems, and a big part of achieving this is preserving the independence of our seniors as long as possible.
Preserving independence is critical to quality and longevity of life. Moving a loved one into a care facility too early increases their risk of depression and health decline – In fact, they are three times more likely to suffer from depression in care facilities than those living in the community. Experts believe this is because of fear, isolation and a sense of helplessness. Then, there’s the economic factor, with the cost for an aged care facility as high as $106,000 per year – quite a sum for both the health system and the families if the loved one is moved into a facility prematurely. Yet moving them too late could risk their safety.
Ageing in Place with artificial intelligence
Ageing in place is a movement to provide the infrastructure and support to enable people to live in their homes as long as possible, which could have wide reaching benefits economically, socially and for the overall quality of life of the elderly population. This sounds like a pretty obvious goal, but until now, seniors have made the transition based on family or doctor’s opinions, or after a worrying incident.
With emerging technologies like Internet of Things and cognitive technologies, we are on the verge of a new era that could enable more of our elderly population to stay at home longer, while providing peace of mind to family and doctors. Tiny, ambient sensors which can measure things like sound, motion, lights or even carbon dioxide levels in a home, can provide an incredibly rich source of information about an individual’s daily life – but in a way that’s almost seamless to the person.
Data from these sensors can be coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive technology to develop holistic behavior patterns for individuals. For example, what time they tend to cook breakfast, which would see a rise in C02 levels, and when they go for a walk in the afternoon. This individual factor is key – ageing affects us all, yet in different ways, so we must not treat our seniors as a homogenous population. These holistic behavioural patterns for an individual could allow family members, doctors and caregivers to proactively monitor the health and well-being of their loved ones, and alert them in real-time to scenarios when the seniors may need support. Scenarios such as a stove being left on or a door being opened in the middle of the night.
The technology is already emerging and it’s a matter of integrating it in a way that makes sense for our senior community and aged care system. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Loneliness, depression, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s disease are devastating neurological conditions that affect far too many people, particularly in our ageing population. Loneliness has been shown to have health risks equivalent to those of smoking and diabetes, with an overall 26 percent increase in mortality. Meanwhile alarming figures indicate that Alzheimer’s and dementia is on the rise, and there is no cure yet in sight.
We are researching ways to predict these neurological conditions as early as possible in an effort to heighten our chances of slowing the rate of cognitive decline (and preserving independence along the way), as well as preparing the patient and the family for what’s ahead – as much as you reasonably can. There are new abilities to map the connections in the brain with artificial intelligence which could reveal new insights into the evolution of our cognitive function as we age. This insight is going to have a profound impact on healthcare, particularly in our senior community.
An IBM Research project out of the Austin Research Lab combines artificial intelligence with robotics in the form of an in-home assistant. Not only could it help monitor vital signs such as heart rate and breathing through visual recognition, but could also respond to human emotions through vocal cues and facial expressions. For the next generation coming through, AI technology and in-home assistants will likely become the norm. With AI technology that can understand tone and emotion, we could be well on our way to keeping our seniors in their homes as long as possible, while helping them feel more connected and supported.
I am personally excited about the role technology will play in helping identify and mitigate risk in the aged and improve the quality of life through personalized insights and timely recommendations.
Find out about more ways AI is changing the world at A/NZ Watson Summit coming up in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland- Register Here.