How Innovation Will Affect Aging and the Elderly
Innovations are changing everything around us, and the rate at which the world is changing is increasing. Fortunately, this means that plenty of cool tech will be unveiled before many of us get too old… but what about those who are already aging? It’s a discouraging thought, that you might become too old to see technology at its greatest potential — and science is proving that simply thinking about these types of things in relation to being old can have negative health benefits.
Scientists and researchers have found that “the weight of thinking about aging is a stressor proven to affect cardiovascular health and cognitive function and can slow down the way a person walks, making them less active,” according to Union Leader. In fact, the thought and stress of aging can cause someone to withdraw, become isolated, and suffer the health effects of loneliness, analogous to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Fortunately, the upsides of innovative technology means that perhaps the effects of getting older won’t be so obvious, ostracizing, and downright stressful for people. Perhaps current technology will be the very thing that allows the old and aging to see future innovations. Here’s how:
It might be hard to believe, but robotic care is no longer just on the horizon — it’s here. In fact, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology’s How Technology Will Impact Aging Now and in the Near Future has robotic care at the top of their list, referencing Japan as one of the forefronts of robotic care for the elderly. They write:
“Paro the robot seal has been shown to calm people with Alzheimer’s disease. Honda’s Asimo autonomous robot can perform mundane tasks such as getting an older person some food or turning lights on and off. Panasonic’s Resyone carebot has gained recognition for being the first robot to meet ISO service robots standards; however, it doesn’t look much like a robot. It is in fact a device that can change shape, turning into a bed, chair and electric wheelchair as needed. Japan’s research institute RIKEN is currently developing a robot called Robobear that can carry a person safely should the need arise. There are even robotic cats for people who can care for themselves but are in need of companionship and friendship.”
However, Japan is not the only country working on robotics for the elderly. Jerusalem-based Intuition Robotics just recently raised $6 million in funding and plans to open an office in San Francisco to test their elder care assistant, ElliQ, with senior citizens in that area. ElliQ helps keep families in touch with video chats on a tablet interface, and even when family isn’t there, the robot will suggest activities almost as a companion would, and will remind the elderly to take their medicine.
Smart Homes and Further Automation
While thoughts of robots helping out the elderly a la Robot & Frank are colorful and entertaining, the truth is that most of our automation is going to modify things we already have (and that don’t look like robots). For example, there’s generally a lot of cool talk over how autonomous cars will change the world, but sometimes we forget about what might be considered mundane — such as the fact that the elderly would be able to go places on their own much more often without putting the public at risk by getting behind the wheel.
The smart home is another area that people are looking into for elderly care applications. Wikipedia states that “the form of home automation called assistive domotics focuses on making it possible for older adults and people with disabilities to remain at home, safe and comfortable.” These types of homes would make assisted living possible without requiring nurses or family members to administer care, instead relying on the smart environment to deliver it.
Gene Editing and Advanced Medicine
While naturally we may be inclined to think of future innovations as technological in nature, advanced medicine doesn’t always go hand in hand with robotics and automation. One huge breakthrough in recent health sciences has been gene editing, specifically through a process called CRISPR. You may have heard of it in the news for it’s ability to target HIV, Zika, mesothelioma, and even make pig-to-human organ transplants possible some day — and you might even be able to add age-reversal to that list some day soon.
The Revolution Against Aging and Death (RAAD) conference is giving reason for scientists and researchers around the globe to coalesce and discuss anti-aging. Director of Coalition for Radical Life Extension, James Strole, told CBS “there are several scientifically proven modalities out there to help reverse aging, and possibly bring you back to your biological age of 25. Extending or lengthening telomeres, gene editing and gene therapy are just a few.”
The Downsides: Loneliness and Cyber Vulnerabilities
It’s important to realize that there are downsides to some of these innovations and advancements too. Bradley University’s Online Program mentions some of them in their online article “Six Healthcare Trends to Watch in 2017” including the influence of Big Data and emphasis on data security. If we’re not careful, we’ll relegate the elderly to being statistics and numbers a la big data, instead of the people with names, faces, families, and interests that we’re supposed to be caring for in the first place.
As far as cybersecurity goes, earlier this year we saw just how destructive a cyberattack can be on global healthcare systems when WannaCry was unleashed upon the world. These systems are prime targets for cyber criminals because they protect our most vulnerable citizens — those that cannot care for themselves. Before we move fully onto implementing innovations that will serve our senior citizens, we need to make sure that they work as intended and are truly serve them positively in the first places.
Nevertheless, it’s an exciting time to be alive if you’re interested in technology. Not only are the innovations that spring up every day exciting, they may keep you alive long enough to see the innovations of tomorrow. Perhaps those innovations will continue the cycle. Who knows; perhaps some day innovation and technology will halt aging altogether.
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