Artificial intelligence is advancing so rapidly, it can be hard to speculate about its effects on elders. What we can see is that applied to healthcare, it could be very positive. For older adults with multiple chronic conditions, there are different doctors with different perspectives, each a specialist in one thing. For anyone who has experienced what we call “fragmentation” in our healthcare system, you may see that the doctors don’t always communicate with one another.
I can imagine a central database for each patient created immediately with AI, so that any physician could immediately see a full medical history and how an issue compares with every factor known or unknown about the symptoms and signs. Based on that vast store of information, an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan is created.
How It Is Now-Too Much Guesswork
That would be in sharp contrast to how things are done now. Several treating doctors who do not see each other’s records would know right away what other providers have diagnosed, planned, and what medications are prescribed. Guesswork would be reduced. Different perspectives would be compared and conclusions drawn. The need for a second opinion would be eliminated.
Another benefit would be complete information about every medication, its side effects, warning, and contraindications. Clearly, some aging parents are getting the wrong medication for their individual profiles. Selecting the right ones, now a matter sometimes of hurried decision-making, would be streamlined. The possibility to improve medical care in general could vastly improve. For elders in particular, often with multiple health conditions, medical care could get a lot better. AI could vastly improve the accuracy and individualization of treatment.
The Possible Dark Side Of AI On Elders
We already know that AI has frightening capabilities. Seniors who use the internet can be on it without true regard for the dangers. Financial elder abuse is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. One particularly evil part of this is the “Grandma scam” featured at one time on the broadcast of TV show, 60 Minutes. The program demonstrated several older adults, none with cognitive impairment, who were all scammed by the fake phone call from someone posing as a grandchild or other relative, claiming to need money urgently. All of the featured adults fell for the scam and gave money to a courier, supposedly for the relative in distress.
Without AI, we do have caller ID and we can listen to the caller and respond if we don’t recognize the voice on the phone. The scammers make excuses (”I have a cold”). But a strange voice at least can cause someone to get suspicious. With AI, it is possible not only to spoof the caller ID to make it look as if the call really came from the grandchild, it is also possible to construct a duplicate of the actual grandchild’s voice. That is frightening! If the targeted victim sees a grandchild’s name on caller ID and hears the AI-generated voice of that person, the scammers will readily get even more success with their evil plots to steal money.
I can also imagine AI being used to collect data on any aging parent from every possible source: social media, public records, family tree information from the internet, etc. A profile of all potential victims could be created to give the scammers ready targets in minutes. These are just some of the imagined downsides to the power of AI.
As I do not have a criminal mind myself, I am only able to go on the facts of elder abuse as I know them now to guess at what other evil can be done to elders. But we do know that anytime there is any opportunity, thieves will jump on it to steal. In my imagination, that is the most terrifying aspect of AI as we see descriptions of its boundless capabilities.
What Is Needed
Of course, developers of AI themselves say that regulation is needed right now. And we can imagine how difficult it will be to regulate something this new, this unprecedented in this rapidly developing technology. Regulation can go so far. Some developers of AI have opined that if unchecked and unregulated now, it could destroy us.
We don’t yet know what of AI’s seemingly unlimited capabilities will be most likely to help our aging parents. We can say at this moment that no computer generated information can have morals, compassion or ethics. These look like distinctly human characteristics. Can AI generate those too? Maybe not. A tech device cannot put a caring hand on an elder’s shoulder and say, “don’t fall for that scam”. Personal vigilance in watching closely over our aging parents and other loved ones will always be needed.