By Joel Landau
In early 2015, a University of California, San Diego team successfully used micro-motor powered nanobots inside live mice — without causing damage to their stomach linings, changing healthcare forever.
In mid-2015, this concept was quickly advanced by mechanical engineers at Drexel University working in partnership with Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST) in South Korea. What they created were more efficient ‘micro-swimmers’ capable of breaking through clogged arteries and leaving anticoagulant medication to prevent future blockage.
That’s pretty amazing.
Indeed, artificial intelligence (AI), from big data and machine learning to caretaker robots and medical nanobots, can help humans live longer. It’s a primary reason scientists have predicted human lifespan to increase to 125 years by 2070.
Continued advancements in AI are coming, and they hold the potential to cure cancer, prevent heart attacks, and much, much more. Living longer will present many opportunities and challenges for humanity, not to mention professionals in the healthcare industry. With medical breakthroughs underway as we speak, the time to prepare for these changes is now.
Here’s what senior healthcare managers should expect as AI penetrates the industry, prolonging longevity for more and more adults.
More Patients, More Tech
Over the last 160 years, the average lifespan has increased by about one year every four years. With rapid improvements in AI, this increase will accelerate.
By 2050, those aged 80 and over will represent 4.1 percent of the world population, up from around 1.0 percent today. That equals 379 million individuals, based on projections from the United Nations. Additionally, the number of centenarians is estimated to increase 18 times. Again, AI and science are playing a major role in this shift.
According to the Pew Research Center, world population should reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and exceed 11 billion by 2100. This increase is likely to happen, despite the fact the global fertility rate has been halved over the last half-century. Some even believe there is no true limit to how long we can live.
With AI curing ailments and addressing medical needs with cutting-edge precision, people will be able to live healthier, longer lives. In the healthcare industry, many of these incredible tools will be adopted, making tech skills more important than ever for nurses, doctors, and caregivers.
As these tools prolong lives, the proportion of admitted patients, too, will rise. With longevity contributing more to our population bump than birth rates, an uptick in elderly patients will oblige us to cater to their unique concerns.
New and Evolving Health Concerns
While AI can fend off some diseases, the elderly will still be susceptible to issues including accidents, chronic illnesses, and cognitive decline. Leaders in the healthcare industry must be equipped and staffed to deal with these issues swiftly and sensitively.
According to the British journal Age and Ageing, the number of seniors that will suffer from four or more chronic illnesses is projected to double in less than 20 years, by 2035, with as many as one third of all seniors affected by cognitive impairment.
This tells us that longer lives come with more age-related complications, not less, and healthcare providers will witness this firsthand. Already, people who are living older in the United States are spending a larger proportion of their later years sick.
Healthcare professionals should prepare to address these concerns by equipping their teams and facilities for longer-term care, or partnering with nursing homes that offer specialty rehabilitation.
Beyond physical needs, we also must address the issue of loneliness. Currently, 43 percent of those aged 60 and older report feeling lonely on a regular basis, according to a University of California, San Francisco study. Suicide rates are much higher among the elderly than the general population, which can be connected to the physical and mental decline that’s accelerated from social isolation and insufficient care.
Healthcare institutions should actively encourage the elderly to get involved in social groups, whether it be a volunteer club, fitness group, or continuing education class. We can make use of technology to facilitate connections with others. For instance, hospitals could implement AI as a way to combat loneliness and stimulate the mind, like these conversational, game-playing chatbots.
A Strain on Healthcare Providers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists personal care aides, home health aides, and nursing assistants among the fastest growing jobs right now, but demand far outpaces supply. More than 1.3 million caregivers will be needed over the next decade. The problem is low pay and high levels of stress make the job undesirable to many. We need to explore ways to fill the gap.
To ensure elderly individuals get appropriate care, we could encourage retired healthcare and social workers to become part-time caregivers, promote the career of a caregiver as a noble path, tap into new labor pools at home and abroad, and find ways to increase pay and benefits.
Of course, such initiatives may not have the intended success. That’s where AI can come into the picture again. As Louise Aronson, a geriatrician, advocates, “the biggest argument for robot caregivers is that we need them.” They can supplement human care by doing more labor-intensive things, like changing sheets and assisting with exercise, enabling the elderly to live more independently.
Already, machines are learning to diagnose diseases, helping to address health concerns before they debilitate people. In addition, the internet of things (IoT) can assist with monitoring health status in and out of hospitals.
Guido Pusiol, a researcher at the Stanford Partnership in AI-Assisted Care (PAC), has been analyzing how sensors can determine if an old person is having an issue. The sensors will notify others to go check on the individual if it’s determined a fall or other problem has occurred, a system which healthcare institutions could feasibly adopt.
By advocating for this type of technology at home, we may also empower elderly people to live independently while still accessing help when it’s needed. Ultimately, this will help reduce hospital admissions and readmissions, preventing unnecessary overflow, strain, and cost.
We Must Rethink What Matters
It’s true that more people living longer with more health complications means there will be no shortage of hard work for the healthcare industry and the business to match. As spending increases to match patient needs, we should scale our resources for the right reasons with optimal patient outcomes in mind.
In healthcare, a field motivated by compassion, it’s vital that we improve patients’ quality of life instead of just granting more birthdays. As it happens, the catalyst for the changes on our doorstep (AI) may also be the tool that helps us to manage them.
Joel Landau is the founder and chairman of The Allure Group, a rapidly expanding provider of skilled nursing and rehabilitation services throughout the New York downstate area. The Allure Group transforms nursing homes into post-acute rehabilitation centers that are attentive to the needs of residents when it comes to their health, comfort, culture, and quality of life. Landau is also the co-founder and managing director of Pinta Capital Partners.