We are facing an aged care crisis. Every day another 11,000 Americans turn 65 and there are only enough aged-care beds for 17 percent of today’s aged population. For us to keep providing just this 17 percent of our aged population with beds we would need 1,870 additional new beds to be created daily. The result is many of our seniors are waiting five years to enter a senior care facility, many of whom will not survive that long. The solution is to keep our seniors independent and in their own homes for as long as possible to take pressure off the system, while also providing the kind of oversight and health benefits they need to remain safe in their environments. Senior care then becomes “high care” when seniors are no longer able to live independently.
AI AND INDEPENDENCE
Seniors have special needs and foibles that need to be taken into account when creating technology to assist them. While younger baby boomers are usually tech savvy, many of the older generation have never used a smartphone or computer. Technology needs to be passive, requiring little or no personal intervention. Seniors can be stubbornly independent and view every offer of help or technology as an attempt to put them into a facility or take away their independence. They will not disclose pain or illness if they think it will threaten their independence. This makes it difficult to manage their health.
The challenges to be solved can be divided into two audiences. First, the passive monitoring of seniors to detect adverse events (such as a fall) and summon help immediately. Second, to provide assurance to family members their loved one is safe, as well as to provide them with insights into their health and behavior over time.
New and existing buildings will need to provide technology solutions for these audiences to attract buyers into the senior-care segment. This is where artificial intelligence can begin to play a role.
THE AI INTERVENTION
Artificial intelligence (AI) had its beginning in 1955. This will come as a surprise to many who think it is a recent innovation. The modern focus for AI is on creating generalized algorithms to solve communitywide problems such as facial recognition, voice activated assistants and recognition of communitywide trends. Generalized algorithms will not pick up the subtle changes in an individual.
Traditionally, AI would take thousands of samples of individuals to produce a generalized model. For senior care this focus needs to move from a model of many to a model of one, creating a database around an individual’s ever-changing behaviors. Over time it can establish a pattern that allows the detection of subtle changes in behavior and health.
Data on the individual is captured through different types of sensors installed in an apartment or building, generating enormous amounts of data points that need to be analyzed to extract trends and changes. AI plays a role in matching these patterns and reporting any changes.
Over time, as a senior’s basic functions degrade, analysis of this daily data can enhance health outcomes and provide assurance to the family. Where are they, what are they doing, are they okay, are questions that trouble families every day and add stress to their daily lives. AI can check daily activities, including monitoring mood and pain levels. If it sees depression or sadness, a message can be sent to family members, who can respond with a call to the senior to improve their mood. Seniors rarely complain of pain and that runs the risk of allowing the underlying problem to worsen. Facial recognition and AI can detect increased pain levels.
Practical interventions can assist in preventing major strokes or increased injuries from falling and not being found for long periods of time. For example, changes in facial features can detect slight distortions formed by a minor stroke. This insight can be sent to a care giver to intervene at an early stage and possibly prevent a major stroke. Similarly, changes in gait could lead to early intervention to prevent a fall. AI, with the assistance of sensors, can passively monitor and detect falls, tell if the tap is left running or the stove is left on. Recognition of these events can trigger voice advice to the senior or send a message for help in the event of a fall. Importantly, nothing is required of the senior, the technology operates independent of their involvement.
Building management can benefit from AI in monitoring essential services and advising on maintenance requirements. From a senior health perspective, passive temperature checking of visitors can prevent exposure to viruses and other diseases. As has been shown by COVID-19, this age group is the most vulnerable.
THE ELECTRONIC TETHER
Beyond the home, AI will play a leading role in solving issues within senior-care facilities. For example, 90 percent of dementia patients will attempt to wander from a senior housing facility. Facial recognition and AI can detect these defections, but, importantly, AI can notice patterns in daily attempts to wander away. One case that highlights this is the story of an elderly female resident who attempted to wander away every day. AI recognized those attempts were only made between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day. Using this insight, the staff was able to organize activities for her during those hours and, as a result, prevented the attempts to elope.
Another case of AI intervention came to light when the technology picked up frequent use of the toilet at night by a resident, which led to a diagnosis of a urinary tract infection.
Passive monitoring provides data to help staff see subtle changes to a resident’s habits over time that enables proactive intervention before the changes lead to something more serious. The result is better health outcomes and increased longevity for seniors. The insights help economize staff members’ workload and allow them to focus on what they do best — proactively caring for their residents.
AI is often wrongly accused of destroying jobs and taking over the world. Rather, in this context, it will become the enabler of proactive patient care and allow seniors to live better and longer at home — and in senior-care facilities — and help alleviate the burden on their families.
Terry Crews, a serial inventor of technologies, is founder of Gabriel, a company focused on bringing artificial intelligence to the senior-care market.