Can Technology Delay Functional Decline?

Written by: Richard Caro. Posted: July 20, 2013. 



My favorite question when I meet someone with an idea for a new venture is: “what problem are we trying to solve?".


Over the years, I have met with many new ventures in the “aging” space, and when I ask this question, I get a broad range of answers, many of which don’t quite resonate with me.

I am convinced there are some very important “problems” that relate to the last decade or two of life, though. And some of them might well be solvable with judicious applications of technology.

For example, here is one problem statement which gets me excited.

What if we can push out the time at which we start to experience functional decline, or slow it down?


Minimize / Compensate for Functional Decline

For most of us, with age comes a gradual decline in our functional ability. We start having trouble with the instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs: (1)), and the activities of daily living (ADLs: (2)). And perhaps we experience some loss of cognition.

And as these declines happen, the quality of life goes down rapidly. And we need help. And maybe we need to move out of our house so we can get taken care of by others.

Ignoring for the moment the idea that technology might help us live longer, what if technology could enable us to function at a higher level in our later years than we would otherwise do, thus improving quality of life, postponing the need for more acute care, and likely saving the economy the high costs of caring for us in settings like long term care?

That seems like a goal worth devoting some time and energy too, and smells like a great business concept. Now we just need to find or create products and technologies that can enable this vision of a tech-enhanced life.

Do you have any specific ideas that fit this overall problem statement? If so, please comment below or contact me.


ADLs and IADLs defined

1. IADLs: activities related to independent living, such as preparing meals, managing money, shopping for groceries and personal items, performing housework, and using the telephone.
2. ADLs: activities related to personal care such as bathing, getting in and out of bed, walking, using the toilet, and eating.


[This post modified and reprinted with permission from SciencetoProfits blog by Richard Caro.]




Reader Comments: "Can Technology Delay Functional Decline?"


from earlgpowell (member) at October 12, 2013

When reading your overall problem statement I think of my own IADLs and the technologies I have used to maintain my functionality. I have made many changed in the last 8 years to accommodate getting older.  However, my motivation was more directed towards economic sustainability rather than maintaining my personnel functionality longer.  My personnel problem statement was that my wife and I are very likely to out live our money.  I told my wife that our live style was not sustainable and we agreed to make the changes required.  The first thing we did was to sell out big house and by a smaller one in a Seniors community.  We purchased Long Term Care insurance from Genworth.  next we worked on the IADL.  For preparing meals we use almost exclusivly prepared meals, cooking to us is microwaving. We purchace all of our groceries from Walmart To Go.  Everything else come from  All of our banking and bill paying is done on line.  We don't do much housework and use Skype and headsets for telephone.  We have no landline.  We don't go to movie theators because they don't have closed captions because we are both hard of hearing.  We steam everything to our large Samsung TV and use closed captions for eveything.  We both wear hearing aids, trifocals, and use CPAP to help us sleep at night.  When you write all this down it sounds like we have been fighting hard to maintain our funtionality but in reality it all these change just seemed intuitive and took place gradually.  I have a large computer monitor with display seeting to accomidate my color blindness.  Making it easier for seniors to put this altogether would be helpful.  This all works very well for us, we don't have any issues with ADLs yet. 


from earlgpowell (member) at April 21, 2014

May I suggest that an interesting and maybe more helpful why to graph functional ability VS Age as Richard Caro has done in his graph, would be to change the "y" axis for % of functional ability to ADLs assessment categories as follows:

There are 6 categories

  1. Never needs assistance from anyone
  2. Needs only equipment to complete ADL
  3. Needs reminders/cueing to initiate or complete ADL
  4. Needs supervision from another at arms length to complete ADL
  5. Needs hands-on assistance from another to complete all or some of the ADL
  6. Unable to participate in any part of ADL at all.

For example, category 2 could include technologies such as glasses, hearing aids, Google Glass, Google Self Driving Car, stair lifts and maybe high tech wheel chairs.  Category 3 could include many applications.  Looking at the graph in this way emphasizes how  we can add value using technologies.  All of the categories have opportunities for a Tech-enhanced Life. 

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Last Updated: May 13, 2020.

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