Our CEO interviews Kath Burtrand

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Understanding the problem first!
– Our CEO interviews Kath Burtrand


Kelvin: Is technology a help or a hindrance to those over 80?


Kath: The simple answer is both. There are many who have experience of disability aids of one sort or another, computers, iPads and mobile phones etc. who go on to use them in other ways to suit, such as Facetime and video calls via mobile phones, or Skype on laptops and PC’s to enable contact with family and friends over wide distances. This is a real plus for the tech-savvy, and the skills stay with them for a considerable period of time.


The downside is that those who have little or no experience get left behind. Aging, illness, and frailty can put up barriers to new learning, particularly in trying to memorise new things, new systems, new habits. And for much of the older generation, communication is society – face to face interaction, spending time with people – so technical communication is seen as a fierce wall.


The same can be said for the many technical offerings to aid daily living. For persons who are aging and trying to keep their independence, the technical offering needs to fit the individual in the challenges of their daily life. It’s worth bearing in mind that people keep secrets even from their loved ones concerning health and the loss of abilities, so the need for technical aid or support may need to be greater than it seems.


Kelvin: What should scientists and technologists do differently to ensure the widespread adoption of new technologies by the over 80’s who live independently at home and are at risk?


Kath: There will be differences between the future and current 80+ age groups. More accepted use of technologies will facilitate easier transitions over time and also be more readily available. This fixing in minds and memory prior to aging will enable memories to remain for longer during aging and overcome many trepidations and difficulties experienced by aging populations currently.


But in response to your question, for widespread adoption to be ensured, there has to be a recognition that technical support can be simple and fit the person, rather than the person having to fit the gadget. There may need to be a target younger than the 80+ group to enable reaching the 80+ group with reassurance and familiarity, but this may be more PR than tech or scientific.


For the current situations of the 80+ age group at risk, a focus on the main functions to aid independence, including safety, will be crucial. Any new communications to family and friends need to be perceived as familiar and comfortable so the contrast to ‘old’ lifelong experiences is lessened. In the same way, access to assistance needs to be ‘reassuring and normal’ as many older people resist asking for help, and indeed are mortified to ask.


So, simplicity is good. Certain colours are perceived as good. Certain shapes/designs are good/innocuous – your cube should be good Kelvin as I’m reminded of packages and presents!.


Access to familiar people is good. Voice activation will need to take account of the voice weakening over time. Other activations may be considered for those who are sensory-challenged.  Keeping to a few main assistance roles is good – trying to be all things to all people only complicates.


There are currently groups and drop-in centres for the elderly, which could be a conduit for the familiarity of supportive technical advances and for scientists and technologists to speak with.


Also, in retirement living, many providers offer life support information in a meeting with lunch etc. at their offices or suitable venue – for example, L&Q Housing Association in Walderslade, Chatham. This could also be a way of reaching many more people and act as a guide to those who wish to offer technical developments.

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