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As the world's population continues to age, it becomes increasingly important to design technology that meets the needs and abilities of older adults. According to the World Health Organization, the global population of people aged 60 years and older is projected to more than double by 2050, reaching 2.1 billion. With advances in healthcare and technology, people are living longer and healthier lives. However, many older adults still face challenges in their daily lives, particularly when it comes to maintaining their independence. According to a study by AARP, approximately 77% of older adults wish to age in place; technology can play a crucial role in allowing them to do so, and so we must design it with their needs in mind.
The role of technology in promoting independent living
Technology can be used to assist older adults in a variety of ways, from helping them stay connected with loved ones to providing them with access to healthcare services. One of the most important ways in which technology can help older adults maintain their independence is by assisting them with activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs include basic tasks such as bathing, dressing and eating, as well as more complex tasks such as managing medication and navigating transportation.
Together learning, socialising and being engaged can help to increase people’s overall well-being, and sessions focused on empowerment can only further improve overall health.
There are a variety of technologies that can assist older adults with ADLs, such as smart home systems that can be used to control lighting and temperature and to monitor movement and activity. These systems can help older adults to stay safe and comfortable in their homes and facilitate others helping them if they need it. Additionally, wearable technologies such as fitness trackers and fall detectors can help older adults to stay active and healthy and to receive assistance if they experience a medical emergency.
Communication and social connectedness
Another important aspect of living independently is staying socially connected. As people age, they may become more isolated and disconnected from their communities, which can have negative effects on their physical and mental health. According to a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, social isolation can increase a person’s risk of premature death. To help mitigate this, technology can be used to help older adults stay connected with loved ones, even if they are not able to leave their homes. But being able to use these resources means having an internet connection and the digital literacy skills necessary to navigate the technology and latest software applications.
Read more on the Forum Network: Mind the Gaps and Overlaps: Integrating care services for older people by Ana Llena-Nozal, Eileen Rocard & Paola Sillitti
Demand for long-term care is on the rise, and as more people live longer complex health and care needs are becoming much more common. Policy changes in governance, funding and the workforce can help address current shortcomings and improve the quality of life for older people.
For example, video conferencing software can be used to connect older adults with family and friends, regardless of their location. Additionally, online forums, discussion groups and virtual communities for older adults, such as GetSetUp, can be an opportunity for older adults to meet like-minded peers who share their interests and learn at the same time. Together learning, socialising and being engaged can help to increase people’s overall well-being, and sessions focused on empowerment can only further improve overall health.
Access to healthcare services
Access to healthcare services is another important aspect of living independently. As people age, they may require more frequent healthcare services, such as regular check-ups, medication and treatments. However, older adults may have difficulty accessing healthcare services, particularly if they live in rural areas or have mobility limitations.
Designing technology for older adults requires a different approach than for younger generations; they may have different needs and abilities when it comes to using technology, and it’s important to take these factors into account.
Technology can be used to help older adults access healthcare services more easily. For example, telemedicine services can be used to connect older adults with healthcare providers remotely, allowing them to receive medical consultations and treatment without leaving their homes. Additionally, mobile health apps can be used to track symptoms and manage medication. Smart home technology like voice assistance can also be used to help older people remember important medical appointments and to take medication.
Designing technology that meets the needs of older adults
Designing technology for older adults requires a different approach than for younger generations; they may have different needs and abilities when it comes to using technology, and it’s important to take these factors into account. Here are a few key concepts to keep in mind:
- Usability: Technology should be easy to use and intuitive. This means designing interfaces that are simple, clear and easy to navigate, with large, easy-to-read fonts and clear icons.
- Accessibility: Technology should be designed with accessibility in mind, with features that cater to those with visual, hearing or motor impairments. This might include text-to-speech functions, high-contrast displays or voice-activated controls.
- Personalisation: Technology should be customisable to meet the unique needs of each individual. This might include options for font size or color schemes, and other personal preferences which may include concepts of aesthetics as well as personal design preferences.
- Safety and security: Technology should be designed with safety and security in mind, with features that protect against fraud, identity theft and other online risks.
- Interoperability: Technology should be designed to work seamlessly with other devices and systems. This can help ensure that older adults can easily access the services they need, from healthcare providers to emergency responders.
There are still challenges, though, around access to these resources. The greatest is the digital divide, which refers to the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. Older adults may be less likely to have access to technology, particularly if they have lower income levels or less education. Many older adults live on fixed incomes and may not be able to afford the cost of technology products and services, which can be a barrier to their use. Plus, older adults may not have access to technical support, which can make it difficult for them to troubleshoot problems or to receive assistance if they have difficulty using technology. Additionally, older adults may have difficulty using technology due to physical or cognitive limitations, such as difficulty with fine motor skills or difficulty understanding instructions. They may not be aware of adaptive devices that can help mitigate these issues or even eliminate them altogether.
As the global population continues to age, designing technology for older adults is crucial. Technology has the potential to play a significant role in promoting independent living for older adults, assisting them with activities of daily living, keeping them connected with loved ones and providing access to healthcare services. By designing technology that is accessible, user-friendly and affordable, we can bridge the digital divide and help older adults stay independent and age in place.
To learn more, check out also the OECD's work on Digital innovation and inclusiveness
And read also the OECD's report Retaining Talent at All Ages
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