Precision Aging- Does Tech Have Some Answers?

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In the USA, over ten thousand people are turning 65 daily; this has given rise to a preponderance of newspaper and magazine articles charting the potential impact of the Silver Tsunami and what it means to support an aging society. Those of us with aging parents see the value of supporting our parent’s wishes to be in their home and independent as long as is feasible. Technology to support healthy aging is a huge growth area for entrepreneurs, and those who have expertise in eldercare needs are also cautious and express concerns that elders are often a group that suffers from financial abuse and fraud so in terms of adding value the bar is set high.

The Spring edition of The Bridge from the National Academy of Engineering focuses on technologies for aging. The series includes articles that address transportation needs, assistive technologies, social robots, and data analytics to support healthy aging. I encourage you to get the entire edition if your work focuses on this population (link below).

Today’s blog will focus on the article by Eric Dishman from the National Institutes of Health on supporting precision aging which he defines as “being able to individualize and optimize a person’s care over the lifespan based on deep, data-informed understanding of her or his unique biological, behavioral, environmental, and socioeconomic circumstances”. Supporting precision aging requires sophisticated data analysis derived from multiple data sources, often real-time to create a lifespan view of an individuals opportunity to age well- something Dishman calls a “lifeprint.” He posits that within ten years, given the current pace of scientific and technological advances predictive analytics will be able to provide support for continuous lifespan planning – where small choices that add up to healthy aging. It does imply a level of agency that many elders don’t enjoy today, and unless these foundational data sets include vulnerable elders, we may only compound what we have today. Dishman proposes a portfolio framework (see Figure 1 below) that includes:

1. Safety and Comfort
2. Physical and Bodily Health
3. Cognitive and Mental Health
4. Connection and Community
5. Choice of Time
6. Choice of Place
7. Meaning and Purpose

Screenshot 2019-03-20 09.27.11

Mapping these dimensions it may be possible to create a technological overlay to support that individual whether they are bed-bound and need help with activities of daily living, like bathing and dressing, or if they are mobile but need assistance getting to doctors appointments and social engagements with friends. Having continuous data streams from sensors and home monitors that live in the cloud and are real-time responsive to the individual’s needs and can send a driverless car to escort someone to their out-of-home activities.

It reminds me of the Gibson quote “the future is here; it is just not evenly distributed.” While we are a decade away from having reliable predictive genomics, a shared electronic medical record, home health models that are adaptive and responsive, reliable methods to identify and authenticate individuals and secure and private datasets it is clear that to be supportive of aging adults we must consider ALL, not just some.

There is a healthy skepticism regarding technology, both its promise and who will benefit. Trust has been severely eroded by recent reports from the tech giants and new work that addresses ethics, privacy, and transparency will need to demonstrate these issues are being taken seriously. One thing is clear; we are all aging every day and supporting healthy aging is imperative if we are going to be a vibrant society of seven billion.


Thanks for reading – Trina
(Opinions are my own)



National Academy of Engineering. The Bridge Spring Edition of Technologies for Aging.

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