The Fountain of Youth for Today's Aging World

One of the hardest things a person can do is ask for help. Many even see asking for help as a sign of weakness. It’s true. There have even been books written on the topic.

Asking for help can be an important part of living a long and healthy life. Asking for assistance is one thing, but becoming reliant is something else entirely. Psychologically speaking, self-sufficiency is paramount to life.

“On a superficial level, (self-sufficiency is) similar to ‘secure self-esteem’,” said Steve Taylor, Ph.D. and columnist for Psychology Today. “It’s an estimation of oneself as a worthy and decent person. But it goes deeper than secure self-esteem, in that it’s not just a cognitive but also an affective state – that is, it’s a feeling of fundamental wholeness and well-being.”

The loss of that ability to be self-sufficient, thusly, can be detrimental to a person. Loss of the ability to care for one’s self, and the loss of self-esteem that comes with it, can lead to depression. A person’s physical health is often impacted next.

People with depression often have worse physical health, as well as worse self-perceived health, than those without depression.” This according to Jane Collingwood, writer for PsychCentral. “Depressive illness can...precede a physical disease. It has been linked to coronary heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and possibly type 2 diabetes.”

That data well defines one more truth. Assisted living elderly care facilities can actually be pernicious care. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society monitored the length of stay of more than 1,800 nursing home residents to understand the typical length of stay prior to death. It’s important to consider the factors that are involved in a study such as this one. Age, gender, socio-economic background, and health status all have a part to play in the final results. Still, these factors were considered and the published conclusion was as follows.

“Nursing home lengths of stay are brief for the majority of decedents.”

This isn’t to say that nursing homes should disappear. However, it does pose an interesting question. Is there a way we can make the elderly more self-sufficient even as family members see these self-sufficiencies begin to erode? According to IBM that answer is a resounding yes, and it begins with the Internet of Things.

“By using sensors and the Internet of Things, IBM can monitor patterns in temperature, carbon monoxide, electricity and water usage in order to help caregivers and social services organizations better understand a person’s daily routines and extend independence in their homes.”

The Baby Boomer generation is retiring, and it means that the amount of elderly requiring care is only going to increase over the next several decades. It has even been estimated that aged individuals (65+) will outnumber global youth (0-14) for the first time in recorded history by the year 2050. This stat has already come to fruition in countries like Japan, Italy, and Germany. It means that the decisions we make today will not only directly impact their lives, but, according to IBM, it will impact all of us both today and tomorrow.

“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 major potential impact on all sectors of the economy.”

According to the same research conducted by IBM there are a number of things an aging individual wants. The core of them are related to living an independent life. A few examples are as follows.

  • Freedom from loneliness and isolation
  • Remaining in the home and community for as long as possible.
  • To be relevant and productive
  • Personal safety in the home

The above answers do a good job of outlying another fact. Not including a fear of lost memory or dementia, the number one fear of aging is lost independance. With the help of the Innovation Olympics program, an “8-week guided project that challenges university and business school student teams to leverage their knowledge and skills to solve a real innovation and growth innovation,” thought leaders gathered to envision a world where we have out thought aging. The project came to a completion with three recommendations.

  1. Provide Knowledge as a Service

This recommendation came to be thanks to a single question. What if partners could tap into a central cognitive computing platform that combines private data, industry data, and public information, uniquely and securely?  The answer to the question came in the form of a shared cognitive computing platform.

  • Cognitive Interaction | Older adults get answers while the system learns from each interaction.
  • Analysis of Consumer Data | Partners gain insights previously siloed in industry silos.
  • Knowledge Mining | The platform provides partners new, streamlined access to analysis.

Boiled down, older adults could receive real time information via an audible platform, similar to Apple’s Siri, that could provide immediate feedback to questions. From healthcare, to shopping, to travel, the possibilities seem limitless.

If machine learning and AI had access to things like your health records, your schedule or your bank statements, it could make real recommendations on what you could or should be doing to better care for yourself. That’s the promise of a single, centralized database of information.

  1. Create a Cognitively Powered Community

If the elderly want to remain connected to those around them, technology can fill a need. It puts cognitive computing at the core of a new “Town Square” as an interactive platform.

“Each community has a unique set of factors – libraries, shops, vendors, physicians, and other services that make it home to its members... Any number of entities – cities, towns, agencies, hospital networks, telecommunication vendors, and more – could quickly build a virtual community platform with cognitive capabilities, including language, speech, vision, and data integration.”

Such a virtual city would add additional human interaction and serve as a place to purchase goods or services for use outside of the digital environment. Such options would be attractive for businesses to tap into, considering the ever increasing spending potential of this growing demographic.

  1. Protect Older Adults from Financial Fraud

Fraud is a major fear, not only of aging adults, but of the families that care for them. Machine learning can help here too by building comprehensive financial personas for each individual.

“This persona would define 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.”

Combining a virtual wallet that could develop out of this system could be integrated with previous solutions to create an all encompassing solution, providing more self reliance for each individual. A critical component, as discussed earlier, to help better the lives of all.

As the IoT continues to grow and reach toward its ever expanding potential, it could one day be able to monitor health in real time while combining historical health records in order to alert authorities of any risks that may arise. This, like all of the above, may not make asking for help any easier for seniors or society. Unfortunately for self help authors, if this all works as theorized, it may take the need of asking for help out of the equation all together. That may be the most sufficient outcome of all.

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