IBM Research

Age Matters

Share this post:

Today, most people can expect to live into their seventies and beyond. According to a US Census Bureau report, within the next 15 years the world will have close to a billion people over the age of 65, and for the first time in human history, people aged 65 and over will outnumber children under age 5 sometime before 2020.

Our health and well-being lie at the center of this massive shift in demographics. Many of these people will have physical impairments (loss of hearing, eyesight or mobility) or dementia or Alzheimer’s and need an increasing amount of care.

My own mother, Joyce, is 87 years old and lives at home with me and my wife. She is able to look after herself but suffers from severe short-term memory loss, although she has yet to be diagnosed with a degenerative neurological condition. Over the years, I have become acutely aware of the issues that affect elders and the people looking after them.


Sam and Joyce Adams.

Most global decision makers in commercial and government organizations are dealing with the same situation: caring for aging parents while balancing care for their own families and managing their careers. Extending and improving the quality of life for the elderly is not just a personal issue; it’s critical to IBM’s future. That’s why we’re tackling this massive issue.

IBM, with its heritage and leadership in developing accessible solutions for people with disabilities, is in a unique position to help our clients navigate their way through what is becoming one of the greatest demographic shifts to face mankind. It is predicted to reshape every industry and even the global economy itself.

According to a study from the Consumer Technology Association and IBM, addressing the many issues facing our elders will require a comprehensive approach and new ecosystems of caregivers and businesses that serve them. Healthcare is a large portion of this, but insurance and finance also play a crucial role, as does social care and keeping the elderly engaged in their family and society.

Our goal is to help the world’s aging population live in their own homes longer, to the fullest of their abilities, by building smart homes and environments that use sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) technology, robotic assistants and more. By applying cognitive computing and the power of IBM Watson, and our investments in Watson Health and Watson IoT, we can create new solutions in Cognitive Eldercare.

We want to augment elders’ living environments so they can live safely and independently for as long as possible, but also predict and identify when changes happen that may signal a transition – more help in the home, medical assistance, or the move to an assisted living facility. Transitions like this can be dramatic, stressful, and very costly, so we want to do it in such a way that it can be planned and supported by insights and evidence that help elders and their family make more informed decisions.

To help the elderly age at home longer, IBM is collaborating with Rice University on robots for cognitive eldercare that will track and monitor vital activities and general health status in the day-to-day life of seniors much like an in-home human caregiver would.

In addition, by combining the data from smart homes and wearables, as well as healthcare, financial and social data, we can begin to create a holistic model of an individual’s life, environment and behavior. It’s akin to transforming the home itself into a personal assistant that can detect changing patterns and provide insights about an elder’s daily activities, their finances and social relationships. Insights can be shared with caregivers, doctors, families and other advisors to provide a regular assessment on how they’re doing.

To further our research in this important area, we have opened an “Aging in Place” environment at the IBM Research – Austin Think Lab that demonstrates our capabilities and will help us better understand how real-time data coming from atmospheric, audio, olfactory and motion & falling sensors can better help manage health and wellness as physical or environmental conditions change.

IBM is committed to addressing the challenges of our aging population and working with university and business partners to create solutions that better manage everyday activities, extend their independence, and enrich their quality of life.

Distinguished Engineer & Master Inventor, Aging Strategic Initiative, IBM Research

Leif Rudd

Helping people with early-stage dementia needs to have started before they developed the condition, to familiarize them with the functionality and ingrain the habits so that once they lose the ability to remember to do things like purposefully interact with a system, they will still be used to the automatic functionality it offers. Advanced speech comprehension capabilities will also be needed, for instance to equate vague or replaced terms with various “did you mean…?” suggestions. Seeing IoT automatically puts me on the defensive, since security issues are rife. All IoT policies require strong encryption, complex default passwords, user interaction to change those passwords, and DDoS squelch capabilities. This applies equally to mass-market IoT as well as eldercare IoT.


Great initiative. Hopefully more and more people can benefit from it who honestly are struggling between work and family and parental care.


Kudos for tackling these “care for the elderly” initiatives! Fortunately, my sisters and I were able to care for our father in his home with outside help. Solutions to the following would have alleviated so much stress: A medical professional who coordinates ALL prescriptions and prescription renewal; Doctors who make house calls; A Health-Care Agency that always provides trained back-up support and never cancels out. Good to know changes are coming! Regards, LK

Jim Bell

Great Idea

Daniel Del Angel

Visionary. Important to put focus in this new reality and gratifying to know IBM is once again developing solutions for improving human life.

Donna Ramsey

Great information which emphasizes the unique needs of a growing population. We all can prepare by looking at our living environment and think what modifications can be done to make the transition easier. Taking care of an elderly parent is the first phase in experiencing life’s journey.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter. I relate very well to what you said. My parents are in their mid-80s and living with us. They are already encountering those problems that you mentioned in the articles. Caring for them make me think about my husband and I. We are both approaching sixty. I look forward with great eagerness to IBM’s innovation in this area to enhance elder care and enable the elderly to live independently as long as possible.

Surendran Kamalanathan

Our Parents are one of the main reason of what we are and where we are now, even though they forget a lots of things and do things which may not be suitable for this dynamic world we have to accommodate and appreciate to what they have done and what they are doing at this age which we may or may not be able to do when we are at their age, Hats Off to them and hoping we we set good example for our future generations.

Adrilene Buth

Dear Sam, many thanks for sharing this. I think the issue lives all over the world for many people. We are in a phase of change on how we care for elderly and Cognitive solutions could provide great help, also to provide assurance to caretakers while not in the immediate neighborhood. I would like to encourage IBM to develop local cooperation with organizations that try to set up new initiatives. Also a great opportunity for combining with volunteer work.

Narendra Kunte

awesome efforts in an important area !!! Hope to see the results usable and affordable to individual.


Thanks Sam for sharing an aspect about technology which means so much to families who unfortunately have a family member who needs special care. Since many of these neuro problems are genetic in nature, anyone who has a parent with such special care, chances are that he/she might be heading down the same path. As improbable it may appear right now, it would be prudent to read up on the subject and be very extra vigilant about the first signs that the body or mind start showing. Early detection of such an illness is more than half the battle won. And it could be a very long and expensive battle. I am touched to learn about the seriousness with which IBM is contributing to this cause, with the objective of providing care within the confines of one’s home with the help of technology rather than in an alien environment of a “care home for the elders”. I will be honored to contribute in any work I can volunteer for.

Madhumita Banerjee

Very pertinent topic. Thanks for calling this out. Very nice to know IBM is committed to addressing the challenges of our aging population and working to create solutions that can help elderly better manage their everyday life.

Geeta Philip

Aging naturally and without the terrible changes that impact the quality of life is a great transition in process. Right now, most of the world is not very equipped to deal with this. With IBM’s interest in this area and solutions, tools and innovations, it will be great to invest in this area. This article really struck a chord, because I have a parent who is an Alzheimer and Parkinsons patient. Geriatric care needs to be taken up at an educative as well as awareness level.


This is an awesome initiative and market place. We can help our elders live confidently with help of technology.

John Hartley

This is exciting work, Sam.. So many of us are already have been through, are dealing with, or will soon be facing these issues with eldercare of a parent, that we could all benefit from the results of this initiative.

Sue Myers

An excellent initiative, and a great blog Sam! Once we track & monitor, we’ll be able to understand & predict, and avoid the events that make it hard for our parents and aging population to remain in the home. Thank you Sam.


I’m so glad that we are addressing this very important topic- the world’s aging population living in their own homes longer, to the fullest of their abilities – with Watson. I’m sure this has and/or will affect many of us. Very important for all of us!!

Karen Gdaniec

This looks very promising although the most challenging thing may be getting our elderly to accept the technology. I took the virtual tour of the “Aging in Place” environment and I was very surprised to see such low level seating in the virtual living room. Neither of my parents would be able to rise from the low stools or the chair with the back-tilted seat. Many elderly would not have an issue, but the elderly in my circle of friends and relations are dealing with arthritis and other physical issues that should be a consideration when trying to develop technologies for their environment.

Ben Rosa

Thank you for sharing! Its great to see IBM involvement in this very personal and sensitive area that will ultimately impact many of its employees and their families.

Silvia Bertier

Great initiative !!! thanks for sharing

Neil Greenough

A really interesting read and an issue I can relate to myself. I recently visited the research lab at Hursley (UK) and saw first-hand some of the initiatives being looked at. It looks really, really promising!

Fabio Calatroni

Good application of Cognitive !

Phil Kong

Thank you for sharing …. a topic very close to my family as we have aging parents & in laws who need daily aged care support.

Andrej Crepinsek

Sam, great to hear this. We are working on several Elderly care opportunities in CEE. Most of our countries are facing this challenge.

    Phil Kong

    Yes Andrej, you are right. This is a global phenomenon as life expectancy improves but in China they have an even more unique challenge as a result of the ‘one child policy’ from decades ago.

Acerte na Lotofácil

very good!

Umroh Januari 2017

In the face of careful thought needed research and data collection is good. Thank you for posting.

Edgardo Cornejo

The best thing about human nature is the ability to help others … what a noble mission of cognitive computing to help our parents who in our childhood and growth cared for us. It is the best recognition and meaning in our lives.

Thanks IBM.

Malcolm Heard

Consistent with other responses I personally know how important this research/development direction is. Besides the real time monitoring (my Father In Law’s Pacemaker function in monitored from home to office) there is the coordination aspect of independent living without funded health services. Please consider the essential task of sharing multiple physician information in a shared patient location. We almost had a very adverse outcome from failure to coordinate. They current systems built on specialties does not support this.

Dietmar Held

Sam, appreciate your summary on this and we all know it is a worldwide development with new challenges for all of us. Great that we as IBM are involved with new ideas and solutions.

Ann Kelly

Thanks for the information. I heard about the cognitive initiative with robots at Rice University. I am very excited to hear how this goes. I am working on an Adult Protection solution with IBM Watson Health for Social Programs and would love to talk with you about what we are doing. It would be wonderful if we could bring some cognitive applications to this population. Unfortunately, the maltreatment of vulnerable adults is a large problem and will continue to grow as the population ages.

Joanne Paulo

I volunteer at a nursing home facility and this is something that is so very much needed. For people to have the ability to live comfortably in their own homes for a longer period of time, would be a wonderful advancement for our aging population.


Thankyou – this is on my mind a lot in the context of my parents . I don’t want to go into it but it’s challenging living away from them.

Prithvi Rao

Thank you Sam for sharing the challenges faced by the “Elderly” population. The challenges are real and IBM’s initiative “Aging in Place” to manage health and wellness is really great. Hopefully, over time, we can figure out creative payment models in this space. I would be privileged to work with your team to build solutions for the US Federal Health market.


This is a fantastic application of cognitive AI. Being a caregiver myself (my father in-law lives with us with LBD) we struggle to find the balance of care-giving and our own needs. I look forward to seeing our progress in this space

Eida Tan

Thanks for sharing the latest happenings on what IBM is doing for the greying population. It is very interesting to know that IBM had collaborated with Rice University to create a Watson-powered robot to measure vital signs via facial expression. I hope to be able to contribute to this research effort as I had conducted tons of interviews and hours of observations (Design Thinking) on elderly in Singapore pertaining to the topic of caregivers and product/services personally. Let me know whether is it possible. Thanks.


Sam, thanks for bringing out the challenges faced by Elderely and how technological and help fill the gaps in terms of both extending the quality of life at home and dignity. With advancement in technology and sensors getting cheaper, the solution is not far behind. It is great to collaborate on the work we are doing around Aging-in-place

Sridhar Iyengar

A very challenging and worthwhile initiative that will hopefully help elders (all of us some day in the future) live a life of improved comfort, dignity and joy. A cognitive home we can live in with some comfort beats a nursing home or a strange environment

Glen Austin

This really touched a nerve with my wife and I because we are in our early 50’s and have 4 parents over 75 (one over 90), and 1 sibling who has dementia at 63 years old. We joke that we could have our own “nursing home”, but completely understand the challenges of taking care of aging parents.

Comments are closed.

More IBM Watson stories

IBM Makes Advanced AI More Accessible for Users Everywhere

Artificial intelligence will be the most disruptive class of technologies over the next decade, fueled by near-endless amounts of data, and unprecedented advances in deep learning. The rise of deep learning has been fueled by three recent trends: the explosion in the amount of training data; the use of accelerators such as graphics processing units […]

Continue reading

Changing the Way the World Works: IBM Research’s “5 in 5”

Our mission at IBM is to help our clients change the way the world works. There’s no better example of that than IBM Research’s annual “5 in 5” technology predictions. Each year, we showcase some of the biggest breakthroughs coming out of IBM Research’s global labs – five technologies that we believe will fundamentally reshape […]

Continue reading

Watson Hops On Board Human Space Flight

In June, German astronaut Alexander Gerst will embark on his second six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS), serving as station commander in the second half of his stay. On this mission, Gerst and his team will receive some unusual support: CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) will be on board – a medicine ball-sized […]

Continue reading