The Landscape of Technology for Older Adults

There is a growing conviction that technology can play an important role in enhancing both the quality of life and independence for older adults, as well as potentially reducing the individual and societal costs of caring for older adults. A recent article in the Gerontologist examines the landscape of technology options for older adults, and identifies the factors important for the acceptance of technology for older adults.

Looking at the types of technologies related to quality of life for older adults, the authors identified five core life domains that have been targeted by technological efforts: physical and mental health, mobility, social connectedness, safety, and daily activities and leisure. The authors also identify the three predominant methods that have been used to achieve improvement in these core areas: monitoring or measuring the environment or individual; diagnosing or screening problems, needs, or desires; and treating identified problems, needs, or desires.

Of the core domains identified, physical and psychological health has been by far the most evaluated in studies on the effectiveness of devices such as diagnostic tools and wearable sensors, as well as procedures such as telemonitoring. Less well studied are the applications of technology in the other core areas identified. And while there are studies demonstrating the ability of technology to monitor older adults in areas such as mobility, there is less evidence for the ability of technology to affect changes in these domains. However, the authors note that this could be due to such technology being in the early stages of development, and that existing studies provide important insights on refining and applying these technologies in the lives of older adults.

Adoption and acceptance is an important issue for any newly developed technology. The authors identify three main factors that have been focused on: the abilities, needs, and preferences of the end user; features of the technology; and societal factors, which would also include policy. Overall, it has been suggested that perceived usefulness and ease of use were key to predicting technology use. In addition to this, other researchers point to the importance of the social and environmental context, as well as the availability of support systems. Cost-benefit calculations have also been brought up. Costs could include loss of privacy, stigma, or expense. Benefits would include enhanced functioning, increased autonomy, and greater safety.

Lastly, the authors look at important factors related to technology acceptance that come from major theories of the aging process. They point out that theories of aging suggest that technologies aimed at older adults should take account of the three following areas: the needs for older adults to allocate diminishing resources as a result of age-related declines in sensory, physical, and cognitive abilities; strategies that older adults can or do apply to compensate for losses in abilities; and the methods that older adults can employ for optimizing adaptations to changes associated with aging. By taking into account features of the aging process, the most effective technology for older adults has a greater likelihood of being developed.

The technological landscape of products aimed at meeting the needs of older adults is rapidly changing. Many areas of technology aimed at older adults need greater research, so that how well a new technology meets the claims made for it can be evaluated. Furthermore, when choices are being made regarding technology for older adults, attention needs to be paid to the factors that might influence adoption of a new technology, which should include an assessment of age-related factors.

Source:

Schulz, R, Wahl, H-W, Matthews, JT, et al. Advancing the aging and technology agenda in gerontology. The Gerontologist. (2014) DOI:10.1093/geront/gnu071

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