In the 20th century, we have added 25 years to our lifespan through various public health innovations, but we haven’t provided tools to help us use those additional years in the most productive and fulfilling way. In the 21st century, the challenge is to employ new tools and strategies to enable us to live healthier during those years–adding to our healthspan. We have already crossed the threshold where the demand for healthcare services is outstripping the supply of providers. And, by 2020, the number of people aged 65 plus will outnumber children younger than five years old for the first time in history.
So, our first priority should be to enhance the healthspan, by giving people the tools needed to improve their health and inspire them to maintain healthy lifestyle choices. If we do this right, we will turn this growing cohort of older adults from being seen as a burden to one that is remaining vital, connected and adding value. And of course, connected health is a big part of the solution. There are multiple dimensions at play, but I want to touch on two areas that became clear to me while researching my recent book on aging and technology.
Digital technologies are creating a new kind of old, enabling individuals to remain vital, engaged and independent through their later years. But it has to be the right technology, designed for an aging population, not just what technologists and app developers think people want. Social robots, artificial intelligence, vocal biomarkers and facial decoding will analyze emotion, anticipate health problems, improve quality of life and enable better relationships with healthcare providers. It’s also about using data to better understand the ‘soft science’ of wellbeing and address the neglected crisis of caregiving. It’s a business model but, more so, it’s a new way of life.