How AI Can Enable Cognitive Engagement of Older Adults

Greg Twemlow
16 min readMay 13, 2024

This AI-Journey has two roles: the AI-Driver (children or grandchildren) and the AI-Passenger (older adults). I’ve named the program concept MemTrek. Find out more at www.memtrek.studio

This article acts as a priority date for the claim of Copyright for the phrase: MemTrek — Journey Through Memories to New Horizons©

DALL·E 2024–05–13 10.20.07 — The young adult, possibly a grandchild, is actively using a laptop to Prompt an AI by Greg Twemlow

TL;DR: “How AI Can Enable Cognitive Engagement of Older Adults”

  • Roles Defined: Introduces two roles, the AI-Driver (usually younger family members) and the AI-Passenger (older adults).
  • Bonding and Learning: Highlights how this AI-driven journey offers unique opportunities for both parties—teenage grandchildren and adult children—to connect deeply with older family members, enhancing understanding across generations.
  • Cognitive Benefits: Discusses cognitive enhancements such as improved memory recall, increased mental flexibility, and strengthened problem-solving skills through structured AI interactions.
  • Emotional and Social Gains: Emphasizes the emotional well-being and social interaction benefits, reducing feelings of loneliness among older adults.
  • Phased Approach: Recommends a three-phase approach (Memory Lane, Storytelling Highway, Exploration Road) to deepen engagement and maximize cognitive and emotional outcomes gradually.
  • AI Interaction: Explains how the AI driver should initiate and manage AI interactions, including setting contexts and ensuring the comfort of the AI passenger.
  • Safety and Comfort: Stresses the importance of monitoring the AI passenger’s comfort and pausing the journey if stress or discomfort is detected.

The article explores the dual benefits of using AI to bridge generational gaps and stimulate cognitive functions in older adults, making it a powerful tool for family bonding and historical preservation.

Watch the video below for a real-world example of ChatGPT4o’s voice interface. I envisage this interaction supporting the cognitive development of older adults.

https://youtu.be/dBrdd7xg-dg?si=dLj1d_v5o1EXkWNB

Enriching Bonds Through Shared Journeys

Embarking on this AI-driven journey as an AI-Driver offers a unique and rewarding opportunity to deepen your connection with an older family member, be it a parent or grandparent. This process is beneficial for the passenger, who enjoys cognitive stimulation and the chance to reminisce, and it also holds profound advantages for the drivers.

For teenage grandchildren, this journey offers an unparalleled window into the past, providing a deeper understanding of their family’s heritage and the life experiences of their grandparents. It’s an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of another generation, gaining insights and wisdom that are rarely accessed through ordinary conversation. It’s an experience that can strengthen familial bonds, foster empathy, and build a foundation of mutual respect and understanding that will last a lifetime.

For adult children, acting as the AI-Driver allows you to discover facets of your parent’s life that you might never have known. As you guide them through their memories, you not only help preserve these precious stories for future generations but also come to understand the trials, triumphs, and adventures that shaped your parent. This journey can transform your relationship, offering new perspectives and appreciation for your parent’s resilience and character.

The Mutual Benefits:

  • Cognitive and Emotional Enrichment: The driver and the passenger engage in a dynamic learning and emotional exchange process. The driver gains a broader perspective of their family’s history and the intricate tapestry of personal experiences that influence their life narrative.
  • Legacy Preservation: By documenting these conversations, you are creating a lasting legacy that can be cherished by future generations. This preserves the history and honors the life and contributions of your older family members.
  • Skill Development: For younger drivers, particularly teenagers, this process is a chance to develop essential life skills such as empathy, communication, and technical prowess in managing AI tools. For adult drivers, it’s an opportunity to enhance interpersonal and caregiving skills.

Thus, the role of an AI-Driver is much more than a facilitator of technology; it is that of a historian, a bridge between past and future, and a participant in a deeply meaningful family bonding experience. By embarking on this journey, you enrich your understanding of where you come from while simultaneously contributing to the cognitive vitality and emotional well-being of your loved ones.

Monitoring AI-Passenger Comfort and Well-being

As the AI-Driver, you must be acutely aware of your passenger’s comfort and emotional state throughout the journey. At any sign of stress or discomfort, pausing the activities and addressing any concerns is crucial. The well-being of your passenger is paramount, and the journey should only proceed when they feel comfortable and at ease.

Remember, the goal of this AI-Journey is to reach a destination and ensure that the journey is a pleasant and enriching experience for your passenger.

Should you observe any signs of unease, take immediate steps to reassess the situation and make adjustments as needed, even if this means temporarily halting the journey. This proactive approach ensures a safe and positive experience, reinforcing the trust and comfort vital for this engagement's cognitive benefits.

About the AI-Driver Role

As the AI-Driver, you are entrusted with the navigation and operation of this virtual trip. In this analogy, you are the driver of a vehicle designed to journey through the unlimited landscapes of artificial intelligence with your passenger — an older adult with rich life experiences, reliant on your expertise for guidance.

I have conceptualized this AI journey with you in the driver’s seat, assuming you are a competent AI user. This is essential because the journey's success hinges on your ability to manage the AI tools and interactions competently. Just as a passenger will not reach their desired destination if the driver is still learning to navigate, the cognitive benefits we aim for can only be achieved if you are skilled and confident in your role.

Don’t embark on the journey until you are confidently competent in using AI technology.

The Importance of Cognitive Stimulation

Engaging older adults in cognitive activities is a critical component of healthy aging. Studies, such as those by the American National Institutes of Health (NIH), demonstrate that seniors who engage in regular cognitive stimulation experience slower mental decline. This engagement is akin to exercising a muscle; the more it is used, the stronger it remains. By learning new technologies and interacting with AI, you help activate multiple brain regions in your passenger, which is essential for maintaining cognitive health.

Your role goes beyond navigation; you facilitate a journey that enhances mental agility and enriches your passenger's cognitive landscape. This path is about reaching a destination and enriching the journey with memories, stories, and continuous learning.

As you commence the journey, remember that your proficiency and confidence as the AI-Driver are crucial. You are operating an interface and steering a course that can enhance your passenger’s life. You’re embarking on a journey of discovery, joy, and cognitive enhancement.

Ideally, your level of competence will be at the “Experimenters” stage or further, as shown below.

The nine stages of AI competence designed by Greg Twemlow
The nine stages of AI competence designed by Greg Twemlow

Anticipated Cognitive Benefits of the AI-Journey

As you guide your passenger through this AI-Journey, you’ll likely witness multifaceted cognitive enhancements:

  • Enhanced Memory Recall: Interaction involving storytelling stimulates the hippocampus, enhancing memory.
  • Increased Mental Flexibility: Tackling various topics boosts adaptability and problem-solving skills.
  • Strengthened Problem-Solving Skills: Decision-making activities stimulate the prefrontal cortex.
  • Boosted Creativity and Expression: Creative engagements with AI foster joy and cognitive resilience.
  • Social Interaction and Emotional Well-being: Your guided interactions can mimic social engagement, improving mental health and reducing feelings of loneliness.

The Recommended Three Phases of the AI-Journey

I suggest dividing the journey into three phases to ensure a structured, comfortable, and impactful engagement with AI. Each phase builds upon the successes of the previous one, gradually deepening the cognitive engagement and enriching the experience.

Phase 1: Memory Lane

Objective: To stimulate memory recall and enhance emotional well-being. Activities: Begin by revisiting cherished memories and significant life events. Use AI to generate prompts that encourage your passenger to share stories from their past, such as describing their first job, a memorable vacation, or hobbies. This phase is about warming up the cognitive engines and providing comfort through familiarity.

Benefits: This initiates gentle mental stimulation and helps maintain historical and personal identity, crucial for emotional health and cognitive resilience.

Phase 2: Storytelling Highway

Objective: To strengthen cognitive processing and narrative skills.

Activities: Transition to a more structured form of storytelling. Encourage your passenger to tell the story of their life or significant phases. The AI-Driver can assist by suggesting narrative structures or questions that deepen the storytelling process. Consider recording these stories, which can provide a tangible sense of legacy and accomplishment.

Benefits: This phase enhances organized thinking and expression, crucial for cognitive agility and mental clarity.

Phase 3: Exploration Road-Trip

Objective: To expand knowledge and stimulate intellectual curiosity.

Activities: Once the previous phases have been successfully navigated, encourage your passenger to learn about new subjects or delve deeper into existing interests. This might involve using AI to explore historical events, scientific discoveries, or artistic expressions. Tailor the content to spark curiosity and engagement, integrating interactive elements like virtual tours or creative workshops.

Benefits: This phase promotes lifelong learning and cognitive flexibility, which is crucial for adapting to new cognitive challenges and maintaining mental acuity.

Implementation Tips:

  • Progress Monitoring: Regularly assess comfort levels and engagement to determine when to transition from one phase to the next. Adapt the pace according to your passenger’s feedback and cognitive stamina.
  • Customization: Tailor each activity to your passenger’s interests and cognitive capabilities. Personalization is key to maintaining interest and maximizing cognitive benefits.
  • Supportive Interaction: Throughout the journey, maintain a supportive and encouraging demeanor. Your interaction is as significant as the AI’s in making this experience enriching and enjoyable.

Following these structured phases, the AI-Journey becomes a series of interactions and a progressive exploration of cognitive and emotional landscapes. This thoughtful approach ensures the journey is as rewarding as beneficial, fostering a profound and lasting impact on mental health.

Starting the AI Interaction: Setting the Scene

Very Important: Helping the AI by Sharing Context

Example Prompt: “Hello AI, today we will engage in a conversation to stimulate memory and cognitive function. You’ll be assisting me, the AI-Driver, in a dialogue with a passenger who is an older adult. Here are some details to help tailor your responses more effectively:

  • Gender: [Specify the gender if relevant]
  • Age: [Specify age]
  • Location: [Specify location, if relevant, for localized content]
  • Interests: [Mention any known interests that might be relevant]
  • Objective of today’s session: To revisit cherished memories and explore topics of personal interest to enhance cognitive engagement.

Please keep these details in mind as we proceed. The format will be me typing in our conversation highlights, and I will need you to provide information, prompts, or questions that can help deepen the dialogue and maintain engagement.”

How to Introduce AI to Your Passenger

Initiating the AI-Journey, particularly Phase 1 which focuses on revisiting memories, can be challenging. Here’s a guide on how an AI-Driver might start the conversation, designed to ease both parties into the journey comfortably and effectively.

“AI, or artificial intelligence, is a computer technology designed to think and learn like humans. Imagine it as a very helpful assistant who can process information quickly and assist us with various tasks.

Here’s how it works: You give it a task or a question, much like asking a friend for help. For instance, you might ask it to recall a fact, suggest ideas for a creative project, or help organize your thoughts for writing something. The AI then uses what it knows — the information it has been taught — to give you the best possible answer or suggestion.

The AI we’ll be using is designed to be very user-friendly and conversational. It listens to what you say and responds just like a person would. Our conversations with it are private, and it’s here to help make our exploration of memories and stories as easy and enjoyable as possible. Imagine chatting with a knowledgeable friend here to help us navigate your wonderful stories and ideas.”

Role of the AI-Driver in Facilitating the Interaction

Providing Contextual Prompts

  • Initial Prompt: “To start, can you provide some general information or interesting facts about [a specific place or topic relevant to the passenger’s interests]?”
  • Follow-Up Prompts: The AI-Driver might ask for deeper insights or related topics based on the passenger's responses. For instance, if the passenger mentions loving Italian cuisine, the driver could ask, “Can you give us some fun facts about the history of Italian cuisine?”

Clarifying and Expanding Responses

  • The AI-Driver should paraphrase or expand upon the AI’s responses when necessary to make them more accessible or engaging for the passenger. This might involve explaining certain terms or adding a personal touch to the information provided.

Adjusting to Feedback

  • The AI-Driver should monitor the passenger’s reactions throughout the session and adjust the prompts accordingly. If a topic seems particularly engaging or the passenger appears overwhelmed, the driver should modify the direction of the conversation to maintain comfort and interest.

By effectively setting the context with the AI, the AI-Driver enhances the quality of interaction, ensuring that the AI’s contributions are appropriately tailored and relevant. This preparatory step is crucial for facilitating a smooth and engaging session that meets the cognitive and emotional needs of the passenger.

Conversation Starter Guide for AI-Drivers

While the envisioned AI-journey involves deep, enriching conversations and cognitive engagement, it’s important to acknowledge the current limitations of AI technology. Presently, most AI interactions require typing, with responses also delivered in text form. This means that as an AI-Driver, your role will also involve translating verbal interactions into typed prompts and communicating AI responses back to your passenger.

1. Setting the Tone: Begin with a warm, friendly introduction that sets a relaxed tone. You might say something like:

[Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa], I’m excited to start this journey with you. The plan is we’ll explore some wonderful memories together. I’m here to ensure everything goes smoothly and make this an inspirational experience.”

2. Explaining the Process: Clearly explain what the journey will entail, ensuring they understand and are comfortable with the process:

“Today, we could start by revisiting some of your favorite memories. It’s like flipping through an old photo album but with words. We can discuss different times in your life, and I’ll ask you some questions to help jog your memory. You share whatever comes to mind, and there’s no pressure to remember everything perfectly.”

3. Establishing Comfort and Consent: Ensure they are comfortable and agree to proceed, emphasizing their control over the session:

“Before we begin, I want to ensure you feel comfortable. Remember, you can pause or stop at any time if you need a break or if there’s anything specific you’d like to talk about instead. Does that sound good to you? Is there anything else you’d like to know or adjust before we start?”

4. Initiating Memory Recall: Start with broad, open-ended questions that invite storytelling without putting pressure on specific details:

“Let’s start with something light — can you tell me about a place you loved visiting when you were younger? Maybe a vacation spot, a city, or even a favorite neighborhood hangout?”

5. Listening and Encouraging: Show active listening by nodding, smiling, and providing verbal affirmations. Encourage them by showing interest in their stories:

“That sounds wonderful! What did you enjoy most about that place? Do you remember any special events or people from there?”

6. Gradual Deepening: Once they seem more comfortable, gradually move to more specific memories or introduce prompts provided by AI to deepen the recall:

“I love how vividly you described that park. Could you share a specific memory of a day you spent there? Perhaps a family picnic or a funny incident?”

Expanded Role of the AI-Driver with AI-Prompt Integration

After the passenger shares a memory or interest, such as their love for visiting the Amalfi Coast, the AI-Driver can prompt the AI to deliver informative content or related insights that enrich the conversation. Here’s how that interaction might look:

Passenger Response: “Oh, I used to love visiting the Amalfi Coast in Italy.”

AI-Driver’s Action: Recognizing an opportunity to deepen the conversation and enrich the passenger’s reminiscence, the AI-Driver then prompts the AI for a response. This might be done internally, within the AI system, without the passenger needing to hear the specific command.

AI Prompt from the Driver (internally): “Can you provide some interesting facts or a brief history of the Amalfi Coast to help us understand why it’s such a popular destination?”

AI’s Response (to share with the Passenger): “Absolutely, the Amalfi Coast is renowned for its extraordinary beauty and picturesque scenery, stretching along the southern coastline of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula. It’s dotted with small beaches, pastel-colored fishing villages, and steeply terraced cliffs covered with lemon groves. A famous aspect of Amalfi is its rich history that dates back to the medieval period, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site. Did any specific part of the coast stand out to you during your visits?”

Following Up: The AI-Driver uses this information to engage with the Passenger, perhaps reminiscing about specific landmarks, local cuisine, or cultural elements associated with the Amalfi Coast that the passenger might have enjoyed.

Enhancing the Journey

  • Educational Integration: By integrating educational or enriching information from AI, the journey becomes more than just a trip down memory lane; it transforms into an interactive learning experience.
  • Personalized Engagement: This approach allows the AI-Driver to personalize the conversation based on the passenger’s past experiences and current interests.
  • Cognitive Stimulation: Providing new or supplementary information about familiar topics can help stimulate the passenger’s cognitive functions, encouraging connections between memories and new knowledge.

By actively using AI to provide contextual information, the AI-Driver keeps the passenger engaged and deepens their appreciation and understanding of their experiences. This method turns a simple conversation into a dynamic, informative, and emotionally rewarding interaction.

Tips for AI-Drivers

  • Be Patient: Allow your passenger to take their time with responses; don’t rush them.
  • Be Adaptable: If a topic seems to cause discomfort, gently steer the conversation towards more comfortable subjects.
  • Be Supportive: Regularly reassure them that their contributions are valuable and appreciated.

By following this guide, AI-Drivers can help initiate the journey smoothly, ensuring their passengers feel comfortable, engaged, and ready to explore their memories. This thoughtful approach helps build trust and ease into deeper cognitive engagement as the journey progresses.

ChatGPT as the AI-Driver

The concept of having ChatGPT take on the role of the AI-Driver is appropriate once the AI-Passenger understands how to use the ChatGPT App on their mobile phone. This approach can provide continuous, consistent, and personalized interaction for the AI-Passenger, ensuring they receive the cognitive and emotional benefits of the MemTrek program even without a human AI-Driver.

Here’s how this could work in practice:

Key Responsibilities for ChatGPT as AI-Driver

Listening and Responding

  • ChatGPT actively listens to the AI-Passenger’s input, responding appropriately to keep the conversation flowing.
  • It can ask follow-up questions, provide affirmations, and show empathy, ensuring the AI-Passenger feels heard and valued.

Encouraging Continued Interaction

  • ChatGPT encourages the AI-Passenger to elaborate on their stories and thoughts, prompting them with questions and showing genuine interest.
  • It can use techniques to guide the conversation, such as summarizing what was said and asking open-ended questions.

Managing the Conversation

  • ChatGPT can recognize when the AI-Passenger is getting tired or seems ready to move on to another topic.
  • It can suggest breaks or shifts in the conversation naturally, ensuring the AI-Passenger remains comfortable and engaged.

Implementing ChatGPT as AI-Driver

1. Initial Setup and Training

  • Introduction: Introduce the AI-Passenger to ChatGPT and explain how it will assist them. A simple session demonstrating how to use voice commands and prompts can help.
  • Personalization: Customize ChatGPT’s responses to align with the AI-Passenger’s preferences, interests, and conversational style.

2. Continuous Engagement

  • Conversational Prompts: ChatGPT uses a library of prompts tailored to the AI-Passenger’s interests, ensuring conversations are engaging and varied.
  • Follow-Up Questions: ChatGPT can ask follow-up questions based on the AI-Passenger’s responses to delve deeper into their stories and experiences.

3. Emotional Support and Feedback

  • Empathy and Understanding: ChatGPT uses empathetic language and validation techniques to provide emotional support.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Encourages the AI-Passenger by acknowledging their contributions and expressing appreciation for their stories.

4. Monitoring and Adapting

  • Feedback Mechanisms: ChatGPT can periodically check in with the AI-Passenger to gauge their comfort and satisfaction with the conversation.
  • Adaptation: Based on feedback, ChatGPT adjusts its approach to better suit the AI-Passenger’s needs and preferences.

Example Scenarios

Scenario 1: Recalling Childhood Memories

  • ChatGPT: “Hi Mary, it’s wonderful to see you today. Last time, you mentioned your childhood home. Could you tell me more about your neighborhood when you were a child?”
  • AI-Passenger: “Oh, it was a lively place. We had a small park where all the kids played.”
  • ChatGPT: “That sounds delightful. What games did you play in the park? Do you remember any particular friends you spent time with?”

Scenario 2: Discussing Hobbies and Interests

  • ChatGPT: “Hi John, how’s the model shipbuilding going? Have you made any new additions to your collection?”
  • AI-Passenger: “Yes, I just finished a model of the HMS Victory.”
  • ChatGPT: “That’s impressive! The HMS Victory has such a rich history. What was the most challenging part of building it?”

Scenario 3: Exploring Historical Events

  • ChatGPT: “Hello Helen, I know you’re interested in the Renaissance. Have you read about any interesting artists recently?”
  • AI-Passenger: “Yes, I’ve been reading about Leonardo da Vinci.”
  • ChatGPT: “Leonardo was truly a genius. What aspect of his work fascinates you the most? His paintings, inventions, or perhaps his studies of anatomy?”

Having ChatGPT adopt the persona of the AI-Driver can significantly enhance the MemTrek program by providing continuous, personalized, and empathetic interactions for the AI-Passengers. This approach ensures that older adults can engage in meaningful conversations, receive cognitive stimulation, and enjoy emotional support even without a human AI-Driver present. It leverages the strengths of AI to create a consistent and supportive environment tailored to the needs of each individual.

I’ve named the program concept MemTrek. Find out more at www.memtrek.studio

This article acts as a priority date for the claim of Copyright for the phrase: MemTrek — Journey Through Memories to New Horizons©

MemTrek — Journey Through Memories to New Horizons© is designed by Greg Twemlow

About the author: Greg Twemlow, Founder of Future Skills Studio.

Future Skills Studio Founder, Greg Twemlow

Greg Twemlow: Sharing what I’ve learned from my career of 35 years as a citizen of the world, parent, corporate executive, entrepreneur, and, since 2018, CEO of Future Skills Studio, focused on experiential learning programs for young people.

--

--

Greg Twemlow

Pioneering AI-Enhanced Educational Strategies | Champion of Lifelong Learning & Student Success in the GenAI Era