Press release

New technologies can radically improve quality of later life – but older people need support to become ‘tech savvy’

01 October 2016

To coincide with the International Day of Older Persons (1 October), the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is drawing attention to the potential benefits of new technologies for older people, calling for action from Government and industry to ensure older people aren’t deterred from embracing unfamiliar technology innovation.

The IET is calling for a public engagement programme led by Government and industry to highlight the potential of new ‘assistive’ technologies to help with the challenges older people face, particularly in light of an overstretched public health system – as well as for better user support from technology companies to suit a wide range of technical abilities, including older people who are typically not as ‘tech savvy’ as younger generations.

New ‘assistive technologies’ particularly aimed at older people include:

  1. Medical alert systems with sensors attached to objects around the home that are part of daily routine, such as pillboxes or the fridge, so that any changes in routine can be monitored – and a relative, carer or friend alerted. 
  2. Automated medication systems using a connected app to schedule and monitor medication, with audible and visual alerts to prompt the user to take their medication, and alert a carer via text or email if a dose is missed. 
  3. Smart heating systems for the home that allow control of heating and hot water from a mobile device, eliminating the need to walk upstairs to the boiler.
  4. Consumable digital pills that can be connected to an app to track important health details, recording and analysing data in real-time – tracking how regularly the user takes their medication and whether they are responding to the treatment. 
  5. Contact lenses that detect health information and autofocus the user’s vision, which can be used, for example, by people with diabetes to measure glucose levels.

Recent research carried out by the IET found that 73% of the British public expect technology to assist older people in the future, while two thirds believe it will help them stay in their own homes in old age. But unsurprisingly, people aged 65 and over, who have not grown up with technology, find it more difficult to master the latest technologies.

Professor Will Stewart, IET Vice President, explains: “It’s great to see more and more assistive technologies for older people being developed. But we must make sure they are aware of, and feel comfortable with, this technology – so they can make the most of its potential to improve their health and quality of life.

“While social media websites that bridge the gap between long-distance family and friends are becoming increasingly popular with older people, and Ofcom also points to fairly rapid adoption of smartphones by older people, our research shows we still have some way to go before they are ready to embrace the idea of driverless cars – although of course these are not yet widely available and attitudes may shift when they are.

“The engineering and technology industry is at the heart of the development of all of these technologies, but we mustn’t lose sight of the need to provide assistance to older people to ensure the adoption of technology. This includes being clear about the benefits. People are more likely to welcome the ‘greater independence’ and parking-free streets that driverless cars could provide than the car itself.”

To read the report, visit www.theiet.org/tech-savvy.

Notes to editors:

To find out more about International Day of Older Persons, visit http://www.who.int/ageing/events/idop_rationale/en/.