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Supporting Active and Connected Lives as More Americans Live Longer

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report identifies technologies and policies that can add to older Americans’ independence.

A new report released today by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Independence, Technology, and Connection in Older Age, investigates technologies and policies that will add to Americans’ ability to live independent and connected lives as they get older. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014, an unprecedented 15 percent of the total U.S. population was over the age of 65 – more than 46 million Americans. As Americans are living longer than ever, they are often engaged in active lifestyles well into their eighth and ninth decades.

With many Americans wishing to live in their homes and communities for as long as possible, technology such as prosthetics, wearable sensors, and other tools for daily living can make that possible. Many older adults do not need aid with day-to-day living, but may want support with specific activities like financial management or participating in their job. The latter is especially important as the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in 2015 that people over the age of 65 will make up 8.2 percent of the total labor force in 2024, compared to only comprising 3.4 percent of the total labor force in 2004.

Focusing on three primary challenges common with aging—social connectivity and emotional health, cognitive ability, and physical ability—PCAST made recommendations intended to advance the use of technologies that would have great potential for improving people’s lives. By looking particularly at technologies that are available now or could become available in the short-term, PCAST aimed to maximize the potential for big positive impacts sooner rather than later.

Among the 12 recommendations sent to the President, some—such as ensuring older adults have broadband Internet access at home so they can be engaged, stay mentally active, and access telehealth services and regular connection to caregivers—would help address all three challenges. Others of the recommendations were specific to one challenge or another. Examples in the second category include:

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Department of Homeland Security should advance national strategies to create effective communications systems that reach isolated and vulnerable older people to ensure they receive emergency communications.
  • The Department of Treasury, Federal Trade Commission, and other signatories to the 2013 Interagency Guidance on Privacy Laws and Reporting Financial Abuse of Older Adults should accelerate expectations of banks to offer a range of available protective services to prevent fraud.
  • A multiagency and industry task force led by the Veterans Health Administration, Department of Defense, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Department of Health and Human Services should recommend a roadmap for improving wheelchair functionality capabilities.

By identifying technologies that can help address challenges common with aging and by recommending policies to expand and accelerate their use, PCAST has aimed at helping Americans continue to be independent and active throughout their lives.

Christine Cassel and Ed Penhoet are members of PCAST and co-chairs of the PCAST Working Group on Independence, Technology, and Connection in Older Age.

PCAST is an advisory group of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers, appointed by the President to augment the science and technology advice available to him from inside the White House and from cabinet departments and other Federal agencies. For more information about PCAST, please visit the PCAST website.