My wife Cecily is blessed.
Both her parents are alive. They lead remarkable lives, considering their advanced age.
They have a house in Buffalo and a summer home on the shores of Lake Ontario across the Peace Bridge in Canada. They make their own meals. They drive. They have an active circle of friends. They have season tickets for five local theater companies.
You can’t ask for much more at the age of 88.
But their health is slowly slipping away. Cecily’s mother has two implanted knees and hips and one implanted shoulder. We call her the million-dollar woman. She can only get around with the aid of a walker. Her father suffers from sleep apnea and diabetes.
Of course, it could be worse.
We got a glimpse of how much worse this past Saturday. Cecily’s mother fell that morning and was rushed to the hospital. Her father fell that afternoon and also had to go to the hospital.
Miraculously, there were no broken bones or concussions. Just a lot of soreness and bruises.
This time they were lucky. But what about next time?
I think a lot about next time – both with dread and hope. Why hope?
Because technology is already enabling older adults to live in their homes longer.
I’m not sure if it’s going to make a difference with my father- and mother-in-law. It may be a case of too little too late.
I hope I’m wrong, because what I want most right now is technology that will keep them from falling.
What Are We Waiting For?
The technology is here. Motion sensors are all that’s really needed.
David Lindeman is director of the Center for Technology and Aging in California. He’s been studying how older adults interact with machines for a long time.
He says sensors and other devices are making it easier to track the movements of older adults… determine if they’ve fallen… and know whether they need immediate help.
But that’s just skimming the surface.
Diane Cook uses only sensors to predict patient behavior. Cook is a researcher at Washington State University’s Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems. She has spent the past decade using sensors to study how older adults live.
She says context is key.
“Location alone doesn’t let you know what’s going on, but when you combine it with the time of day, what happened right before, and where they were, then you can start to see patterns that make a lot of sense,” she said.
The research included assessments of the subjects’ mental and physical health every six months. Based on her sensor-derived data, Cook could predict with promising results how people would score on the tests.
Changes in sleep patterns, for instance, were found to be correlated with changes in cognitive health.
Just two years ago, my Co-Founder Adam Sharp and I looked into a healthcare startup that generated a data set (similar to Cook’s) from home patients who were frequently visited by nurses. It was generated not from sensors but from humans. These nurses filled out extremely simple questionnaires, answering questions like “Is the patient eating more or less than usual?”
This data combined with the company’s secret sauce (algorithms) were also very effective in making health predictions.
The sensor technology is basic and available. What has improved are the algorithms that interpret the data.
The next great leap will not emerge from better sensors or algorithms, however.
It will come from the introduction of artificial intelligence into the homes of the sick and elderly.
We’ve previously talked about the connected home (here and here). Last week, I talked about the connected car. Both will greatly improve quality of life by adding convenience and efficiency to our daily routines.
But it’s hard to see either one having as great an impact as connected aging technology. Machines, from smartphones to sensors to wearable devices, will allow adults to continue living in their homes much longer than before and lead more productive lives.
But that’s only if the adults cooperate. That’s not a given at this point. Technology can be complicated and daunting for the elderly.
This is where artificial intelligence comes in. The design and interface can be friendly and welcoming. AI also learns on the job.
Israeli startup Intuition Robotics’ ElliQ – a robot that looks more like a desk lamp – has all three attributes. It leans toward the person it’s talking to. It lights up to engage its human companion. It learns when to scold and when to tread lightly.
It’s the most impressive robotic home care device I’ve come across.
It’s raising funds from accredited investors on the OurCrowd website. If you want more information about the company, you can visit the company’s website here or its investment page on OurCrowd – but please note that in order to visit the company’s investment page on OurCrowd, you must register an account on the site.
ElliQ gives us a real sense of where connected aging is headed.
I’m pretty sure that in three to five years, with a more advanced AI backbone, ElliQ will be able to detect differences in its human companion’s gait, speech patterns and interactions in order to pick up early signs of physical problems, flagging energy or deteriorating mental acuity.
We could use the help.
AARP says a “caregiving cliff” is coming. By 2030, there will be only four family caregivers available for every person needing care. That will drop to three caregivers by mid-century.
Right now, I simply want a robot that can say, “Watch out, you almost tripped over the flower pot.”
So far, there’s nothing on the horizon. But we’ll stay on the lookout.
Founder, Early Investing
P.S. I mentioned both connected homes and connected cars earlier in this article. This is a growing sector that we dive into in our research service First Stage Investor. If you’ve ever been intrigued by the growth of private startups providing “connectivity” to our daily lives, or if you just want to learn more about the idea of investing in private startups, see our presentation here.