Outthink aging: How mobile and cognitive computing can improve quality of life for older adults

By Nicola Palmarini, on Co-authored by Sheila Zinck


According to the United Nations, more than one out of five people will be age 60 or older by 2050, compared to just 12 percent today. If the explosion of mobile connectivity and cognitive computing was the biggest technology shift of the early 21st century, the worldwide aging population is the biggest demographic shift — one with the potential to impact many sectors of the economy.

The challenges of meeting the needs of this aging demographic are outlined in “Outthink Aging,” a new report released by IBM and the Consumer Technology Association Foundation. The report proposes three core areas in which the intersection of mobile devices and cognitive computing could have the greatest impact on older adults, their families and caregivers.

Existing point solutions and business models can fall short in addressing the diverse needs of the global aging population. Technology, however, can help older adults better manage everyday activities, connect with friends and family and enrich their quality of life. Combining technologies such as mobile, IoT and cognitive computing, and forming entirely new ecosystems that include technology firms, device manufacturers, healthcare organizations, nonprofits, governmental agencies and others, can help to accomplish this goal.

IBM and the Consumer Technology Association Foundation worked with the IXL Center for Innovation and Excellence through their Innovation Olympics program to challenge the university and business school student teams — from Babson College, Columbia University, Hult International Business School, Stanford University and the University of Texas — to use their knowledge and skills to envision new solutions that could improve digital accessibility and engagement for the aging population.

Through their work and research, the top recommendations for innovation and collaboration include:

New partnerships that deliver knowledge-as-a-service

Today, nonprofits and agencies connect with a range of individual partners to provide services such as healthcare discounts, insurance plans, travel benefits, intellectual community involvement and entertainment. Rather than a one-to-one relationship with a single nonprofit or agency, the report suggests that partners could tap into a central cognitive computing platform that uniquely and securely combines consumer preferences, industry data and public information.

This will help older adults and caregivers easily get answers they need from information and services readily available on a range of devices. The availability of large-scale, integrated sets of consumer data, combined with the power of cognitive computing, would give agencies and technology providers new insights and knowledge needed to quickly develop targeted new offerings and expanded partnerships.

A cognitively powered ‘town square’

Aging individuals want to stay connected within a community that provides support, services, social opportunities, advice and more. While some communities are lucky to have a central, physical space for its residents to gather, others are turning to technology to help provide that important sense of connection.

By combining mobile and IoT technologies with a cognitive platform, any number of entities — including cities, towns, agencies, hospital networks or telecommunications vendors — could quickly build a virtual community platform that is personalized to each person’s unique physical and cognitive abilities. Partners could easily input their services and offerings, creating a customized, scalable and extensible online experience ranging from home repair, shopping, medical support, educational opportunities and social events.

Prevention of elder fraud

Most fraud management systems and solutions are designed for a general population, not an aging population, despite the fact that seniors are more vulnerable. Using a cognitive platform, banking and investment institutions could integrate existing financial models to build a comprehensive financial persona for elderly individuals. This would define elements such as how they spend, how they purchase and what kind of fraudulent activities are happening. This is all critical information that can update and enhance the financial model and fraud detection systems.

To outthink aging, organizations must reassess how they approach the aging demographic to deliver solutions to this market. By working with a new ecosystem of partners, technology providers can create and implement cognitive solutions that will reduce isolation, promote wellness and adapt to the changing physical and cognitive abilities of older adults.

For more information and to download the report, please visit www.ibm.com/able/aging.

About The Author

Nicola Palmarini

Global Technology Advocate

Nicola is a Global Technology Advocate for the Strategic Initiative on Aging for IBM Accessibility Research. He helps customers all over the world accelerate their digital and social transformation for better inclusion of the world’s aging population and people with disabilities, fostering diversity as a competitive advantage.