Part Four in the PCAST Series: Technologies that Support Age-Related Cognitive and Physical Changes

Perhaps the most obvious changes that occur as we age are the physical and cognitive ones, the ones that keep us from doing things the way we always did in the past.

The PCAST report identifies the following technologies to help aging adults continue to live independently and safely despite age-related cognitive and physical changes:

  • Monitoring systems to record activities and identify falls
  • Anti-fraud technologies to protect against financial exploitation
  • Cognitive enhancement or assistance systems like “brain games”
  • Product and home design changes that consider the dexterity and needs of older adults who want to age in place
  • Telehealth to improve access to care for both physical and mental health

Taken together, these technologies can have a tremendous impact on older adults’ ability to age in their home, while receiving quality care.  While the private sector has a large role in advancing these technologies, the role of the government is equally important.  The government can support private sector innovations by defining privacy and security standards, passing regulations to ensure that products and services actually provide their advertised benefits, and improving access to these technologies via payment reforms and other regulatory actions.

Most notably, the report makes the following recommendations for the government:

  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the private sector should develop guidance on privacy and security issues around monitoring.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) should support interdisciplinary and translational research including robotics, advanced mobility technologies, communications technology with special emphasis on emergency situations, cognitive training, and home monitoring.
  • There should be ongoing reauthorization of the Older Americans Act to ensure access to online services and protection from scams and fraud, tailored to the learning needs of older adults.
  • The federal government should encourage the banking and financial services sector to offer monitoring services to protect assets from fraud and exploitation.
  • The Federal Trade Commission should continue to enforce regulatory review and guidelines for commercial cognitive training products.
  • To spur telehealth adoption, HHS should convene the Federation of State Medical Boards and the National Governors Association to accelerate reciprocal state licensure policies and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) should use the full capacity of the Innovation Center to advance payment policies that support innovation in telehealth.
  • HHS should work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on regulations and payment policies around home accessibility standards, particularly for retirement communities.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) should work with AARP and other relevant groups to accelerate better design guidelines for senior-friendly packaging, especially of technology and essential products like food and medical supplies.
  • CMS should examine Medicare payment policies for wheelchairs and other mobility-related technologies that inhibit access and market innovation.

Much of the innovation and product development that supports aging in place takes place in the private sector.  However, without government involvement it’s much harder to ensure that these technological innovations will actually provide meaningful enhancements to older adults’ quality of life as they age in place and their physical and cognitive abilities change.  As a new administration takes over this January, it will be interesting to watch how and if the recommendations from the PCAST Report under President Obama are carried forth. Stay tuned…