Tech For The Over-65s

Technology offers a lifeline to an ageing population. Here are five ways to maximize its impact.

People are living better for longer than ever before, and research has consistently shown that the longer one stays independent in one’s own home, the happier and healthier one is.[1] There is a clear societal need to meet the practical and emotional burdens of aging in a fast-growing low-dependence group whose quality of life could be transformed with the right level of light-touch care. 

Pharmaceutical and healthcare players big and small are currently exploring how best to support over-65s in maintaining quality of life. Digital health technology to support patient quality of life is taking hold, and smartphones are inevitably centre stage. Nevertheless, ideas conceived in the laboratory must consider the desire, need, ability and appetite for such tech from the perspective of this consumer group, and be able to tailor solutions accordingly.

When exploring how best to invest in technology to support the over-65s at home, there are five key areas to consider. Indeed, health concerns are core, but equally critical are the needs and desires of the individual from a more holistic standpoint.

Specific health concerns, needs and challenges
A clear understanding of general wellbeing, health, and specific medical conditions provides the baseline for support needs. Knowing which medications individuals are taking, and how often, is a sine qua non of adult care services. This said, it is equally important to know what kind of support consumers want. Do they have medical monitoring concerns outside of medication taking, and do they want to be alerted to acute or chronic changes in their health, or can alert others (e.g., via a panic button) of emergencies? Knowing future concerns on this front is integral to providing comprehensive support.

Wider independent living concerns
Feeling safe and secure in one’s own home offers priceless peace of mind, so understanding what feeds into this is as important as specific health concerns. Safety and security weigh equally on the minds of consumers and their loved ones, be this worrying about leaving the hob on, leaving the refrigerator door open, or indeed forgetting to lock windows and doors.

Daily activities
Daily activities are often the cornerstone of maintaining happiness and independence. Having a sense of what individuals enjoy most in their daily routines is important: community activities, keeping in touch with family and friends, activities at home and outside of the home (shopping, walks). Knowing which activities, networks, and interactions are most valued, means solutions can be tailored far more effectively.

Communication habits and preferences
When support solutions are designed to facilitate communication between the individual and their family or other service providers, understanding basic communication preferences is key: who are they in touch with regularly? Do they have a family support network? How does technology feature as part of this (e.g., texting, smartphones, Skype/Facetime)?

Technological aptitude and appetite
As most support interventions are digital-based, how the target audience engages with such technology is of paramount importance. How do they feel about technology?Is there someone in their network who could actively support them in learning how to use an app or other new piece of technology?What kind of incentive would encourage them? Insights are needed to feed into workable solutions.

Despite now widespread use of apps, and their apparent seamless integration into daily life, long-term usage is quite low.[2] Barriers to adoption in the over-65 age group are particularly high, so simplicity and incentivisation will be key. A simple and comprehensive solution meeting the holistic needs of this age group will offer quality of life benefits above and beyond tools and apps with a singular focus. The key question for the healthcare industry will be: how far do they want to stretch beyond their specific product offering to support the wider needs of their patients and consumers?

[1]Aspirations for later life. Humphrey, A., Lee, L., and Green, R., for the Department for Work and Pensions, 2011  


Dr Pamela Walker is the Head of Health and a Director at Incite.

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