How technology can help fight elder abuse–ethically

The increasing awareness of abuse of older people by their caregivers, whether at home or in care homes/assisted living/nursing homes, invites discussion of the role that technology can play. This presentation by Malcolm J. Fisk, PhD, co-director of the Age Research Centre of Coventry University, in the BSG Ageing Bites series on YouTube looks at technologies viewed by level of control and intrusiveness:

  • Social alarms, which include pull cords (nurse call) and PERS–what we think of as ‘1st generation’ telecare: high level of control, low intrusiveness–but often useless if not reachable in emergency
  • Activity monitoring, which can be room sensor-based or wearable (the 2nd generation): less control, slightly more intrusive–also dependent on monitoring and subject to false positives/negatives
  • Audio and video monitoring, while achieving greater security, are largely uncontrolled by the older person and highly intrusive to the point of unacceptability. (In fact, some feedback on tablet-based telehealth devices indicates that a built-in camera, even if not activated, can be regarded with suspicion and trigger unwanted reactions.)

The issues of consent, and balancing the value of autonomy and privacy versus factors such as cognitive impairment, personal safety and, this Editor would add, detecting attacks by strangers and not caregivers, are explored here. How do we ethically observe yet respect individual privacy? This leads to a set of seven principles Dr Fisk has published on guiding the use of surveillance technologies within care homes in the latest issue of Emerald|Insight (unfortunately abstract access only) Video 11:03Hat tip to Malcolm Fisk via Twitter.

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