Older people may be receptive to having monitoring technology at home if it enables ageing in place for longer. This was the key conclusion of a study that investigated how technologies that connect older adults to their informal and formal support networks could assist ageing in place and enhance older adults’ health and well-being.

The research project, conducted by Massey University and funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, explored how the information needs of older people and their support networks could be met using technologies. Over the course of two years, the project successfully developed and tested a prototype technological system to help older people to continue to age in place.

The prototype system enhances the older people’s health and wellbeing by unobtrusively monitoring activities of daily living using motion detectors and smart sockets that register the use of domestic appliances such as kettles or radios. Members of their support networks, such as friends and family can then be informed by text messages or email about missed or abnormal activities. Some unique features of the system are that it integrates new technologies available from retailers; it is customisable to individual needs; and it is focused on maintaining older adults’ health and wellbeing, rather than treating specific medical conditions or disabilities.

Furthermore, unlike telehealth technologies which only provide communication pathways with formal healthcare providers, the system focuses on the older adults’ informal support networks, such as their friends and family members, who are often vital for encouraging older adults’ uptake of technologies and assisting ageing in place through ongoing practical and emotional support. During the prototyping, participants reported that they had an increased feeling of safety from system and that they were satisfied with the functionalities it provided.

The study, which has been published here, concluded that older adults and their informal support networks may be receptive to technology that monitors older adults within the home if it enables ageing in place for longer. However, cost, privacy, security, and usability barriers would need to be considered and the system should be tailored to older adults’ changing needs. The user requirements identified from this study and described in this paper have informed the development of a technology that is currently being prototyped.

There are various advantages of assisting older people to age in place that could be realised from the system. Older people often prefer to remain in their own homes, as it helps to maintain autonomy, independence and connection with friends and family.  Supporting older people to remain in their community in connection with both their formal healthcare providers and their informal support networks is not just a more sustainable model of care but one with improved health quality and safety for older people.

The development of the new system was informed by end-user requirements, which the research team deduced from interviews with older adults and their self-identified support networks of friends and family and from focus groups with health organisations that provide support for older people in the Manawatū region. In doing so, the project increased the scholarly body of health-related knowledge in regard to tailoring technologies for older people and overcoming reported barriers.

This is an important subject of academic attention because technologies that aim to assist ageing in place are often underutilised in spite of their potential benefits.

The research team have formed connections and shared their findings with a number of health and disability support services and community groups in the Manawatū region and New Zealand. The interdisciplinary team, which comprises staff from the School of Management and the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, are continuing their development work.

Researcher Dr Dick Whiddett says the research team is hopeful of rolling out the system on a wider scale but they would require more funding to do so.

He confirms they have received some financial support from Massey University to continue with the development and testing of the prototype for another five months.

“We are looking around for support for further developments,” he says, “The response of the users is very positive, but there is still some work to do before we have a system that can be rolled out on a large scale.”

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