To support the health and independence of older adults, scientists and engineers have recently developed some new and promising technologies, including in-home systems that remotely monitor the well-being and health of individuals. These technological developments are only useful, however, when real-world users who find them reliable adopt them.
A recent paper in Ageing International reviews four pioneering studies of activity-monitoring technologies for older adults, identifying common barriers and other factors that influenced their use. Each of the studies in the review used mixed methods and observed the use of new technologies in real-world settings. Three of these involved community-dwelling older adults and their families, and one took place in an independent-living residence and included older adults, their families, and residential staff.
The fact that these studies were conducted in realistic settings enabled researchers to identify obstacles that might not have arisen in a laboratory study. For instance, case managers and other staff who worked with study participants often discouraged participation due to concerns about how these new technologies would influence their jobs. These concerns included fears that technology would replace their jobs, or that it would add to their workload.
The review also found that some of the hypothesized barriers to engaging older adults with new technology were not, in fact, significant. For example, anxiety and other negative attitudes to technology on the part of older adults were not evident in any of the studies. Demographics such as specific age were also insignificant. Instead, participant and family concerns over privacy—as well as over potential information overload—proved to be main obstacles.
With this information the author developed a potential user profile, which describes a typical individual who would most likely benefit from home monitoring technologies. This individual is an older adult who has recently undergone a significant change in residence or cognitive ability, is physically inactive, and at risk for a fall or making a medication error. Individuals with a concern about these behaviors, and whose family or professional caregivers share such concern, are likely to find such technology useful. Most importantly, users stressed that the technology implemented must be clearly relevant to his/her needs or issues.
Researchers, developers, and others who want to use new technology in caregiving will need to consider not only the goals of the older adults for whom these technologies are designed, but also those of the families, professionals, and others invested in their well-being.