How best to help older people to understand the benefit of technology? (UK)

Last week we reported on the survey commissioned by the National Telehealth Forum that found that 9 out of 10 people didn’t know what the word ‘telehealth’ meant, a proportion that was worse for those who were more likely to need it. We suggested that asking a different question about whether they knew that technology could enable them to remain in their own home might give a more positive response.

Well no sooner said than (sort of) done – Invicta Telecare reported a similar-sized poll that, among many, included the finding that “more than three out of five over-65s (65%)…admit they hadn’t seriously thought about the type of care and support they would prefer as they get older during the last five years”. Other responses in the interesting survey seem to confirm that a significant number of older people are in denial of the implications of their age so are inadequately prepared to remain independent.

This clearly strengthens the conclusion from our earlier piece, and from our retrospective on why O2 pulled out of this field of the increasingly pressing need to make people aware of how technology can support independent living. Is 3millionlives the way forward?

This is obviously a topic of great interest that will undoubtedly be debated this autumn particularly at the two conferences specifically aimed at how technology can supporting people to age well, run by the Kings Fund on 22nd October and the Royal Society of Medicine on 25 and 26th November. (Disclosure: Charles Lowe is one of the organisers of the latter).

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  1. Well, let’s rephrase the question … ‘How best to help ‘people’ understand the benefit of technology?’.

    After all – older people do. They drive cars, watch televisions, use computers, use microwave ovens, catch the bus, use cash points, etc, etc. And in responding to the (new) question, surely the reasons for any lack of understanding are around (a) people’s unfamiliarity with the technologies (understandable, of course); (b) the (oft) abysmally poor interfaces that make using such devices problematic – especially if you have a visual impairment or dexterity problem (unforgivable given the attention over several decades around design for all concepts, etc.); and (c) the intrusiveness of the technologies in relation to e.g. (i) their appearance, (ii) the way in which they gather and treat personal information, and (iii) their frequent configuration in ways that deny effective user control (also unforgivable given the fact that such approaches reflect, at best, ignorance on the part of designers and manufacturers or, at worst, ageist and disablist perspectives that carry no legitimacy if we are to build a more inclusive society).

    We also need to move the perspective from one that is phrased in terms of ‘older people being helped to remain in their own home’ – since this carries an implied threat of someone else taking control … of older people being ‘put’ somewhere else. Dwelling designs and technologies now permit us to get free of the straight-jacket of wholesale institutional solutions to people’s support needs – but somehow we’re stuck in the rut of ‘special needs’ that is still more concerned with ‘doing for’ others rather than helping them harness the technologies (or access the living contexts) by which they can ‘do it for themselves’ – at home, in work, in school or college, or when on the move.

  2. Basically, all people use and therefore learn tech that they find valuable to them, if a person sees a use in something they learn how to use it e.g TV recording. If they don’t see the value/use then they don’t. Its making people understand the use and value that is crucial to the sucesful implementation of any tech interventions.

  3. Kevin Doughty

    I agree with the other commentators but have some personal experience with my own family (father aged 92, aunt aged 94 and mother-in-law aged only 84 – all living alone) and their failure to embrace technology, which makes me think that some form of compulsion is the only way of introducing a telecare system into their lives. Don’t worry, I’m not going to advocate it (yet) but it may be worth looking at the issues and then trying to work out where exactly telecare fits in. One thing is for sure, they are not going to enjoy telecare – at least not the first couple of generations that are clearly for risk management purposes. Who enjoys a burglar alarm or going to the dentist?
    So let’s suppose that we consider telecare to be an insurance policy – one that guarantees to detect a problem like a fall or a flood quickly, and then delivers a rapid response so avoid a long lie and the long term issues that might arise. In fact, it would only be the fully comprehensive policy that provides the response, the basic policy only does the detection bit – a bit like third party, fire and theft I guess. Without such a policy, there would be no detection, no response and and no right to an ambulance or paramedic service. That would never do, think about all those people being denied a pretty basic service for the sake of a few pounds a week. But if the government made having emergency cover a condition for maintaining independence once someone had been assessed and been found to have high risks then that would mean many millions more telecare service users, competition for services, better products – and some savings for the NHS too. Everyone’s a winner – better services, better regulation, comparison websites – a true consumer model with opportunities for no claims bonuses and, of course, pricing dependent on assessed risks. So the person who lives in rural isolation and has a dicky heart, osteoporosis and poor breathing because of a lifetime of smoking pays more than the health and diet enthusiast who lives in a city centre complex. Not fair perhaps, but that’s choice.
    Maybe the car insurance analogy isn’t appropriate so what about travel insurance? Most people don’t think about claiming, and might only take it out if it’s compulsory when buying an air ticket. If motor insurance wasn’t compulsary, how many would actually pay for it? I suspect that it would be those careful people who can see the potential problems and aim to manage the risks. They are probably the same ones who will buy telecare services when the time is right. The problem is that nobody knows when that time is – so they all delay until they are forced to. If you happen to live in sheltered housing (or the private assisted living equivalent) don’t the landlords force the tenants (or leaseholders) to pay for an alarm service – usually without choice of provider and service level. Maybe that is the precedent that we all need, because I simply don’t see people buying into an insurance policy unless they are pretty convinced that they are going to make a claim sooner rather than later. Most people don’t think like that – or am I being cynical again?

  4. sandy

    I’m inclined to agree with both of the posts above. I’m lazy where technology is concerned, but would have to learn if I really wanted the particular service, and I also agree that I probably wouldn’t have telecare, at the present time. I live in a sheltered scheme and it’s compulsory. I think most people regard the service as an insurance.