Expert comment

Exploring technology solutions for improving older adult health and wellbeing.


Exploring technology solutions for improving older adult health and wellbeing.

For World Health Day, Dr Toni Wright, Professor Eleni Hatzidimitriadou, Victoria Stirrup and Thomas Thompson discuss how technology can support older people with health and wellbeing.

Numbers of older people are rising across the globe as healthcare advances mean people are living for longer and living longer with long-term conditions. The World Health Organisation has said that ‘Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%.’ This means increased demand on health and social care services and their workforces. Strategies need to be found to support the greater demand and technology can be one solution.   

World Health Day is on April 7 and with this in mind we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the health and wellbeing of older people in current times, and in particular how health technologies can contribute to positive outcomes for them.

We know that many older people do not feel confident about using technology and this means there is a significant gap in older people’s digital skills and literacy. Older people also worry that with the introduction of more and more technology they will lose human contact. Many prefer in-person contact from health care professionals, but with the workforce not growing at the rate needed to keep pace with growing need for health care services there is a need to support people to use technology to stay connected and for assisting with physical and emotional needs.

Smart-living technology businesses innovate technologies for health, wellbeing, safety and remote care. It is a fast-growing industry, especially in the Western world, and is responding not only to strains on health and social care workforces and services but also to demand from older consumers who want to live healthier more active and independent lives.

Virtual reality experience technology is supporting older patients living with dementia or recovering and rehabilitating from brain injuries. Robotic pets are being used in care homes and by those living independently for companionship, connection and promoting positive emotions. Intuition robotics, which are like virtual assistants, can nudge older adults to stay in touch with relatives and friends and to undertake daily activities like taking medication, eating and going for a walk. Technological medical dispensers are being used to give out medicines to older people in their own homes in precise measures and at particular times of the day. GPS trackers are being utilised by older people to get out and about regularly on their cycles and want information about how far they have travelled. Detection watches are used for tracking falls and for monitoring vital sleep quality, heart and respiratory information. There are even innovations in the bathroom where digital toilet seats can sense individual users and scan toilet bowls to assess the quality of excreta!

Older people are also benefitting from schemes that teach technology skills and digital literacy, learning how to use iPads and other video conferencing equipment so they can engage in activities like chair-based exercises or to connect with friends and family. In addition, technology toolboxes are being used to enable the use of auditory, visual, cognitive, fine motor and mobility technologies such as money dispensers and cup fill sensors etc.

To see a video about some exciting work that is going on in the Zeeland region of the Netherlands to support older adults in using technology to stay active and connected click this link

We know that technologies can help support activities like virtual socialising and exercise classes and that engaging in these can reduce depression and loneliness in older people. We also know that collaborative behavioural activation is important in increasing those benefits. In other words, learning about and engaging with technologies as part of a community has a far greater positive impact on health and wellbeing.

Going forward, it is also important to be mindful that the caring workforces also need to be trained in and understand the needs and benefits for integrating technologies in health and social care so they can feel confident in supporting and guiding end users. We also need to be aware of profit-driven health industries and consider carefully and critically the evidence base for the benefits of assistive and active-ageing technologies for not all technologies are advantageous, reliable or user friendly. It is also important to remember that community-based initiatives need to be at the heart of empowering older adults to enable the best outcomes.

Professor Eleni Hatzidimitriadou, Dr Toni Wright, Victoria Stirrup and Thomas Thompson are part of the evaluation team working on the European Union funded EMPOWERCARE project. EMPOWERCARE is a social innovation addressing the current gaps in the care of older people through empowering citizens and communities with a particular focus on technology for achieving this. You can contact the team using this link and if you are interested in finding out more please view the EMPOWERCARE project animation and webpage here.

Share this page: