The fountain of youth may be nothing more than a fantasy, but that doesn’t mean scientists aren’t trying to help the aging population live a more dignified and independent life. Instead of magic potions, they’re turning to technology for help.
The number of individuals aged 65 and older continues to grow every year. Since 1980, the population has doubled worldwide to approximately one billion. By 2050, that figure is expected to double again. Thanks to improvements in health care and medicine, the number of elderly will continue to grow substantially in the coming decades; one in three people born today will live to 100. This puts a demand on care providers, who won’t be able to keep up with the growing demand. The challenge then becomes keeping the aging population independent enough to live healthy lives without the need for care facilities.
That problem has given rise to “tech-enabled care providers” that don’t actually own or operate care homes, but instead focus on developing assistive technologies that allow families to arrange and manage home care for their loved ones. Their innovations include digital databases that find available home care providers, ride-sharing services that shuttle patients back and forth to hospitals for appointments and on-demand prescription delivery services. At-home care is seen as an essential way to relieve the burden on care homes. Another bonus: the majority of people prefer to receive care at home rather than move into a residence anyway.
Services are only one component. Other high-tech solutions involve sophisticated products like hearing aids that come with built-in fall detection as a safety feature; undershirts with sensors to help seniors maintain balance and complete exercise tasks; virtual assistants that help with a variety of everyday tasks; and robotic walkers that can even function as AI-powered dance partners. Despite these promising breakthroughs, there are concerns over AI in some circles. Opponents point out issues such as privacy concerns, reduced transparency in clinical decision-making and a shift toward social isolation—factors that could all have detrimental long-term consequences.
While more and more people are living longer lives, those extra years often come with a cost, anything from diabetes and obesity to osteoarthritis, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. For that reason, increasing the population’s healthspan—the number of years lived without chronic illness—is even more important than lifespan. Solving that problem with technology, experts say, should be the key focus.