In the near future, almost everything we touch will generate data, including our homes, our cars and our bodies. From artificial intelligence to data science, the impact of big data continues to drive innovation and transform many industries. One area that is on the cusp of revolutionary change is healthy aging and prevention. Since big data can bring a whole new level of opportunity to any field, the possibilities of digital transformation in this field are endless.
According to the Advanced Performance Institute (API), the term “big data” is used to describe our ability to make sense of the ever-increasing volumes of data in the world. Big data is currently used to analyze large amounts of medical records to improve treatment and predict diseases, among other things. Since the applications of big data are endless, the impact on prevention as people age will be profound. Even now, the development of new devices and systems are helping older adults and caregivers, making health monitoring ever more accessible.
Continuing progress in public health and medicine have helped to increase longevity and improve quality of life. Thus, using big data to better understand lifestyle and disease, as well as managing and preventing health decline, are key next steps. While people are living longer, they are not necessarily living healthier which impairs their quality of life and ultimately their potential for happiness. More and better apps to help track and monitor physical fitness as well as chronic diseases like diabetes and Parkinson’s are being developed. Smartphones and other popular smart devices, such as Fitbit, can help people track their progress towards a healthier lifestyle. These devices can also record and transmit actual data, providing more accurate information – heart rate, breathing, etc. – for researchers to gather into databases. If companies can continue to design and refine products, I think society will see a decrease in the burden of disease, and an improvement in the medical system.
The healthcare industry has recently been moving away from the task-driven care model, which focuses on disease and behavior management, to a person-centered care method. Person-centered care concentrates on the whole person and targets the specific individual since “one size doesn’t fit all.” What this currently means for healthcare, particularly older adults, is that experts can recommend individual preventive interventions such as providing personalized, genomics-based guidance on various areas, including nutrition, exercise and other healthy habits.
Pinchas Cohen, dean of University of Southern California, states that “Personalized aging strategies can identify which diseases one might be at high risk for and develop appropriate prevention methods.” This can revolutionize the field of prevention since personal genome sequencing promises to reform medicine. The challenge now is to work on reducing costs so that everyone can be able to sequence their genome especially for health purposes.
In an increasingly connected and digital society, tech-based tools will be critical in ensuring older adults prevent and manage ailments and lead a more fulfilled life. Big data will continue to advance and be reviewed, which means more experts are needed to better analyze and understand it. Health systems must also encourage people to play an active role in their own health by making wise choices about diet, exercise, preventive care, and other lifestyle factors. As molecular biologist Joe Vockley says, “What would a hospital look like,” he wonders, “if everybody had a prediction, instead of having a disease?”
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About the author:
Sophie Okolo is an associate with the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, where she focuses on enhancing the center’s healthy aging portfolio through producing research, writing editorials, convening experts, and partnering with national organizations. She works to increase awareness and support for scientific and social advancements in prevention and wellness and to spread innovative health solutions to diverse communities. Her professional interests include improving the quality of life for older people around the world and increasing awareness of preventive health care. Okolo holds a B.S. in bioinformatics from Ramapo College and an M.P.H. with a focus in community health and gerontology from Armstrong Atlantic State University.
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