Artificial intelligence has made its mark in nearly every sector of the healthcare industry — so why not assisted living? 


Over the last decade, artificial intelligence has proven itself to be adept at empowering healthcare providers, payers, and organizations to apply big health data and analytics towards critical clinical and administrative decisions. This capability has sparked considerable investment; according to a recent CB Insights report, investors put a collective $4 billion towards healthcare-oriented AI investments and closed on 367 deals in 2019 — a notable leap from the $2.7 billion and 264 deals reported only the year before. 


Given how far AI capabilities have come in recent years, this growth isn’t all that unexpected. AI underpins cutting-edge diagnostic tools and administrative systems; it uses its ability to recognize patterns and apply data to improve population health and individual care. However, some opportunities — such as assisted living — remain largely unexplored. 


For context, these facilities provide housing and lifestyle amenities to aging seniors who need mild support with daily activities but don’t require the round-the-clock medical assistance of a conventional nursing home. Assisted living organizations empower older residents to maintain their independence during their sunset years without putting their health or well-being at risk. Such facilities will become increasingly important over the next several decades as more Baby Boomers transition into retirement. Recent Census data indicates that by 2050, the United States’ 65-and-older population will top 83.7 million, nearly twice the number reported in 2012. 


Assisted living is a sector well-positioned for AI intervention. The sheer volume of retiring Boomers indicates a growing need for well-managed, high-quality residential care facilities that both allow seniors their independence and provide discreet daily support. AI has proven that it can offer optimizations in both capacities — if, of course, we choose to invest in it.


AI Sensors — Improving Care Quality and Independence


Last year, a systematic review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research for Aging  concluded that “The use of ubiquitous in-home monitoring and smart technologies for aged people’s care will increase their independence and the health care services available to them as well as improve […] health care outcomes.” 


This conclusion drew on the results of an internationally-conducted project called the Enhanced Complete Ambient Assisted Living Experiment. The Experiment assessed how facilities could use sensors to preemptively monitor residents’ walking speed and stride length to predict falls and prompt intervention before medical care is necessary. Researchers found that when installed, these sensors could be used to protect residents from avoidable health concerns while allowing them their privacy and independence at home. Such technology underpins the driving intent of assisted living care, which is to provide some daily support while still empowering seniors to live an active lifestyle. 


AI May Help Seniors Live Better Lives for Longer


AI diagnostic assistants have been well-covered in the media. However, less has been said about what AI can do to prevent conditions from escalating in the first place. While little has been conclusively proven, there is some evidence that AI tools may be able to detect mild cognitive impairment early and enable earlier intervention if deployed across retirement communities. 


In 2017, IBM and the University of California San Diego announced that it would be launching a five-year study to assess how artificial intelligence can facilitate early diagnosis and care of age-related conditions. The program will draw its participants from Paradise Village, an assisted living community in California. The program is currently in its third year and is thus incomplete; however, it is worth considering AI as a tool that retirement communities can use to keep their residents independent and out of nursing homes for as long as possible. 


More research will be needed to confirm AI’s place in senior residential spaces. However, it seems clear that its inclusion in assisted care housing should at least be considered in the coming years — and, if all goes well, implemented before Baby Boomers begin transitioning to assisted living in earnest.