IBM Lays out ‘New Vision’ for Senior Care Tech

Tech innovators, senior living organizations, and other stakeholders need to focus on aging-related challenges, and the conventional ways of attempting to address these issues through technology may not be good enough, according to a recent report from IBM. Instead, the dialogue around aging needs to shift toward one that is open to unconventional ideas with a uniquely integrated and coordinated effort for real innovation to occur.

From technology companies and health care organizations to government bodies and non-profits, providers should strive for a “new vision” that does not have one approach to solving aging’s greatest challenges. While technology partnerships have dominated headlines as more health care organizations, including senior living providers, integrate new systems into their care plans, these solutions must be more personalized and adaptive to changing needs of the elderly, according to the report, “Outthink Aging,” which was written in collaboration with the Consumer Technology Association Foundation.

“Aging represents a spectrum of abilities and issues, and any attempt to address these challenges must recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” the report reads. “And each individual continues to evolve and age at a different rate as they get older. Technology must be personalized and adaptive to their changing needs.”


While these ideas seem abstract and idealistic, there are some very real pathways for innovators to achieve these loftier goals, which include addressing the financial, social, health, personal and societal impacts of aging.

Broader Ecosystems 

The first step to create an “ecosystem” where new ideas and innovations can thrive, is understanding that the current methods used to solve health care challenges are, arguably, too narrow.


“We design devices and applications to meet defined needs and to provide an appropriate user interface and experience,” the report notes. “But human needs are complex and not easily met through technological fixes alone. The aging population is not a user group. It’s a diverse human, global audience with varying needs, habits, technical abilities and more.”

As such, there are also experts and visionaries with the same range of variety, who, when enabled to collaborate together, could provide better solutions for the diverse needs of the aging population.

To better navigate how these connections can be made, IBM mapped out the current landscape of aging people and solution seekers:

The personal ecosystem encompasses the aging individual and the people around them, including family caregivers, friends, community connections, etc.

The provider ecosystem includes all of the all of the many organizations and other stakeholders that create, market and provide solutions and services that help aging individuals and their supporting caregivers meet their needs and wants. This group is just as diverse as individual people, and includes: the senior living industry, nursing home industry, insurance groups, banks and financial services providers, the retail sector, regulatory groups, politicians and lawmakers, the full continuum of technology organizations and more.

This provider ecosystem has become really good at one solution for the personal ecosystem: acquiring data and information. And, according to IBM, the market economy rewards many of these compelling services or solutions. However, interpreting this information, coordinating aging needs and wants, and delivery of those services and solutions hasn’t achieved the same success.

Currently, providers of all kinds don’t have the sort of integration, communication or accessibility with one another to leverage their full potential to meet all aging needs, according to the report. They are, in a word, siloed.

Collaboration Matters

It’s a common complaint between health care providers that despite having technology at their hands to improve care, a lack of integration and communication between different types of providers limits its potential. Collaboration within the provider ecosystem would find the right approach toward “remarkable” innovations that can make a significant difference in the lives of the aging population, IBM argues.

“…The bigger challenge is that many of these organizations—as well as the individual businesses and other entities within them—have rarely, if ever, collaborated on this scale. … These separating walls between important collaborations must break down, and quickly, to ensure the cross-fertilization, seamless collaboration and breakthrough innovation necessary to envision any solution.”

Fortunately, the overarching need for greater collaboration presents a vast opportunity for providers. The innovation IBM calls for goes far beyond simple issues like interoperability, which are just the tip of the iceberg in the broader aging ecosystem.

Student Discoveries

To take a look at how some of aging’s challenges can be solved with the intention of creating a broader ecosystem that connects providers, IBM created the Outthink Aging Innovation Olympics in collaboration with Cambridge, Massachusetts-based IXL Center for Innovation and Excellence. IBM also worked with a practice dedicated to helping start-ups and Fortune 500 companies generate new ideas and business strategies.

The Olympics was an 8-week program that began in February 2016 for university and business school students who were challenged with the task of solving a real innovation and growth issue. The teams, made up of mid-career graduate students from Babson, Hult, Columbia, Stanford and the University of Texas, were guided through the program with mentors from IXL and came up with three specific recommendations:

1) Provide knowledge as a service—shared information would allow providers to tap into a central cognitive computing platform that combines private data, industry data and public information to enable the development of targeted new offerings and expanded partnerships.

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2) Create a cognitively powered community—In the digital era, isolation among seniors can potentially be overcome by recreating the town square notion of gathering virtually and allow seniors to stay connected in the community.

3) Protect older adults from financial fraud—This threat could be mitigated through a platform that could monitor, detect, prevent and learn from fraudulent activities,

These solutions would help facilitate coordination among all types of providers and better enable the delivery of much needed services, the students resolved. However, the greater challenge cannot be solved all at once, or even through one innovation.

“The challenge is to the larger ecosystem: to stop looking for the next gadget, app or other easy solution, and to collaborate and engage at a higher level,” the report concludes. “Together, our joint efforts can deliver integrated, technology-based solutions that address the larger and more complex issues—and significantly improve the lives of the aging population.”

Written by Amy Baxter

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