This blog was contributed by Dave Wright, Age UK’s Research Assistant.
Age UK has been working with Universities of Sheffield, St Andrews and Reading on a project called Challenging Obstacles and Barriers to Assistive Living Technologies (COBALT), to understand why the adoption of assisted living technology by older people is so low. These technologies can be anything from pendant emergency alarms to blood pressure monitors and electric wheelchairs.
The usual explanation is that older people just won’t use technology. However, this research project has gathered data from older people, health and social care professionals, and commissioners and come to different conclusions.
The study found that despite a wealth of information on inclusive design, some assistive living technology is still poorly designed and packaged with instructions that make them very hard to use. We have tried it on a range of people and found this applies to everyone, not just older people. So given good design, older people welcome technology provided they can see it will help them live their lives the way they want.
In the UK, many people only consider using assistive technology following a critical event such as an illness, fall or hospital admission. COBALT found that this is not the best time for people to start using technology. It’s far better to have community initiatives that promote digital inclusion of older people; then if they need assistive technology, they are already technologically aware. This means that health and social care professionals can better employ technology when they consider it will assist their clients.
The project recognised that mainstream technology such as smartphones can have health and fitness applications which are much more acceptable, and often cheaper, than specialised assistive living technology devices.
Another area of convergence is the home where smart monitoring of energy, fire, smoke, and security brings to the consumer market technology that is similar, but cheaper, than specialised assistive technology devices.
COBALT have also proved that if older people and health and social care professionals are involved, they can produce well thought out improvements to the products and services.
Four interactive event were arranged over the summer to share these insights with older adults, health and social care professionals, commissioners, academics, housing and third sector workers, and assistive living technology industry.