Artificial Intelligence and Our Aging Population

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been in the news with growing frequency since the 2023 debut of ChatGPT. What exactly, is artificial intelligence, and how can its current and near-term uses affect older adults? This two-part series examines the current state of AI, how older adults might benefit from its use in daily life, and creates awareness around some of the more nefarious aspects of AI like disinformation, deepfake audio and video.

The Current State of AI

There are many different forms of artificial intelligence. Some are theoretical, in the early stages of research and development, or early incarnations of products and services still in development. Some forms of AI are speculative and in the realm of science fiction. Others are extremely specific in what they can do, while some seem to mimic or exceed human thinking and cognition. These include machine learning, expert systems, deep learning, generative AI (like ChatGPT), robotics, speech recognition, computer vision, and artificial superintelligence.

AI provides information support in business automation, healthcare, education, transportation, law enforcement, military applications, and other domains. However, we are likely decades from anything resembling AI in popular films like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ash in Alien, or The Terminator.

How can AI help an aging population?

US Census Bureau data shows that the Baby Boom generation – 1 in 5 or 20 percent of the US population – will be age 65 and older by 2030. The corresponding trend is a predicted national shortage of caregivers. How can AI help an aging population with fewer caregivers?

Several key areas where AI could help older adults and provide additional caregiver support, short-term, and longer-term, include:

  • Automate routines: exercise and medication reminders.
  • Help with accessing healthcare.
  • Helping ease loneliness and isolation.
  • Provide information and support.
  • Fall detection and emergency notification.
  • Robotic helpers and companions.
  • Monitoring and notification for dementia wandering using cameras and motion sensors.
  • Detect changes in mood and behavior using cameras and motion sensors.

AI Applications You Can Use Now

Numerous early examples of AI are currently used in older adult care.

University of Colorado Health or UC Health, a not-for-profit healthcare system, utilizes AI with Livi, the chatbot on their homepage. Livi can help users find a specific provider, service, or clinic, or help them log into their accounts.

Alexa Together allows caregivers to remotely assist persons in their care with video call support, manage appointments, exercise, and medication reminders, and assist in emergencies by calling for help.

Stackcare takes large amounts of data from sensors installed in an older adult’s home and looks for patterns indicating behavior changes in health, sleep quality, and routines like eating and toileting.

According to the Surgeon General, loneliness is considered a healthcare emergency in the US. Systems like ChatGPT or Ryan the social robot can provide companionship and ease isolation, improve memory, and help caregivers by providing stimulation for older adults.

📷 DreamFace Technologies

These systems use the limited forms of AI currently available. Future versions of these and other products and services will be able to process information, sensor data, and make informed decisions that help older adults with daily care and during healthcare emergencies.

Challenges in AI Assistance for Older Adults

AI’s limitations are a product of humanity’s limitations. After all, people built these systems. Challenges in AI development brought to light through testing include racial bias and a concept called Digital Ageism: age bias as applied to technology. 

Technology’s development and use have historically excluded older adults. The result was a digital divide, where older adults felt ostracized from the technology they saw others using, and a false perception that older adults, as a group, need younger people to help them understand and use technology. AI could worsen that divide.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Multidisciplinary Center on Aging and the University of Denver’s Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging state that they prioritize older adults’ experiences to address this historical disparity.

Next time we’ll discuss some of the darker aspects of AI, and how they might impact older adults.

A version of this post is published in the May 2024 edition of Prime Time News.

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