Product design, interconnectivity key to tech to aid aging in place

Though technology exists that could help older people remain in their homes, barriers such as complexity and privacy concerns often keep adoption rates low.

A report from a recent roundtable discussion "Aging Well Working Session Series: Next Generation Tech" hosted by the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business and Philips discusses these barriers.

A survey of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers found that these people use technology and recognize how it can be valuable to live independently as they get older; however, they reported their own parents were less likely to adopt new technologies.

Attendees proposed solutions in five areas:

  • Complexity of use: Too often products are designed for more nimble hands and sharper eyes and ears. With so many product choices, it's hard for older people to know which ones best fit their needs. The recommendations include more passive interfaces, customer service tailored specifically for aging consumers and sophisticated navigation that helps them access  "smart" applications.
  • Interconnectivity and coordination: Product development remains a bit of a "wild West," creating new products might not work with older ones. The report urges a systems approach to technology and data use in managing health, and a consumer-centric and holistic approach to product development.
  • Access and adoption: Broadband still isn't universally available, and consumers and caregivers too often aren't trained to use new technologies. Recommendations included technology created for safety and ease-of-mind while promoting health, and intergenerational teaching to enable older people to embrace technologies.
  • Value: The industry needs to learn more about how consumers are making value decisions and what influences those decisions. The report calls for better research on target segments that would lead to consumer-centric design for products, services and interfaces, plus more guidance and human connections.
  • Policy: Regulations and processes often remain unchanged, while the health system often remains "offline" with little standardization for electronic health records. Reimbursement policies, the report says, must take patient needs into account, according to the report. It also calls for a policy framework that is constantly re-evaluated along with transparency and clearer communication by government agencies and trusted consumer groups that help educate consumers.

Interestingly enough, while the report notes that glitches can quash older folks' desire to adopt technology, a recent Wall Street Journal article says that older, sicker people are more likely to put up with technical difficulties associated with the health insurance exchange website because they really need the coverage.

Last month, the mHealth Alliance and Pfizer launched a call to action for researchers, implementers, health workers, donors, governments and the private sector to leverage mobile technology to "empower older people to take a more proactive role in their own care."

To learn more:
- find the report (.pdf)

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