Now that his children are older and wife has passed, Joe lives each day without human companionship. The house that once echoed with the laughter of children no longer exists. The comfort of his wife's voice - the warmth of her embrace - gone.
The TV and radio remain on throughout the day to drown out the silence.
For many of us, this is our future. It’s inevitable. Some of us will grow old in retirement communities, watching the friends we made in recent years in the dining room pass. Others will live out their remaining years alone in their homes.
The end of life is a lonely road.
Loneliness is a major problem for senior adults. It is known that seniors become less social and have fewer opportunities to interact with others. Retirement, health problems, or the death of friends and family members foster loneliness.
Here’s what the CDC notes about loneliness in senior adults:
- Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
- Social isolation was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia.
- Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) was associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
- Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
- Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.
AI Can Help!
AI can help reduce loneliness by providing companionship and social interaction that seniors might not otherwise get. For example, chatbots or digital assistants can provide conversation and companionship, while intelligent personal assistants can help with tasks or activities. In addition, AI can help to connect people with similar interests, which can reduce feelings of loneliness.
There are a number of popular AI chatbots that can be helpful in this regard. Some examples include Replika, ELIZA, SmarterChild, and Rose.
These chatbots can provide companionship and support for people who are feeling lonely.
Yet, they have their limitations. Some of the limitations for chatbots like Replika include their inability to understand human emotions at an ideal capacity and their lack of physical presence. Further, AI like Replika can sometimes seem like they are talking in circles.
But let’s assume these AI - as they are today - are the box-like black and white TVs with rickety antennas. Now fast forward a few generations - every house has a flat-screen, 4k TV mounted on their wall. Expect the same developments to happen with AI - but in far less time.
The future of AI holds a lot of promise for helping to solve loneliness. Future AI chatbots will improve in their ability to mimic human conversation and emotions. Future AI technology may be able to create more realistic virtual reality experiences that can help people feel less lonely. They may be able to teach a skill, converse about a favorite topic, or even chat in another language.
There’s also promise AI will become an integral component of dementia care.
One of the current trends in dementia care for senior adults is implementing Montessori principles. People experience cognitive and physical decline when suffering from dementia. However, tapping into what they like to do - or used to do - as well as what they are capable of doing, provides invaluable purpose and meaning to their lives. This improves their outcomes. It awakens part of their brain that has been dormant. Their health improves. Their lives improve.
Retirement communities are learning as much about their residents' hobbies, interests, skills, and life stories when they move in so that staff can interact and engage with them about the things that matter to them.
Maybe you’ve seen the viral video of the former ballerina who listens to the music of Swan Lake and begins to do her routine from her wheelchair? AI could be that for everyone.
Imagine someday sitting in a retirement community and neither your nurse or your neighbor ever read Harry Potter, or watched Major League Baseball, or enjoyed traveling. And so you have no one to talk with about your hobbies or passions. AI is going to be there. Maybe discussing the differences between the books and the movies, or pulling up clips from the 2022 World Series, or asking you about your favorite city in Europe.
Imagine how helpful it would be for seniors to have multiple verbal conversations throughout their day.
Imagine how much happiness and connection AI could bring to the lives of our seniors.
We’re almost there.