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Technologies for when I’m ‘old’

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Ageing

Subtitle: Technologies I’d like to be available to support me, if I need that, in later life

We published the Foresight report on population ageing last year. Since then, we’ve been looking at how technology can help address the challenges associated with ageing. We talked to technology companies, innovative care providers, carers and representatives of older people. Much of this was captured in a recent letter to the Prime Minister from the Council for Science & Technology. We also fed into the design of the Ageing Society Grand Challenge in the recent Industrial Strategy.

This got me thinking: what technologies would I like to support me if I start to need help? Accident or ill-health could mean this happens rather sooner than ‘old age’. Or I may be someone who, though luck and healthy living, won’t need help maintaining my independence into my 90s. However here some things I’d like to be available if I do:

  1. Wearables. From exercise to the beers I’ve liked, I can’t help myself but geek out on logging different aspects of my life. I doubt this quantified self habit will change. I have a fitness tracker now. But I don’t want it to stop at telling me how many steps I’ve done today, or what my heartrate hit running for that bus. I’ll want discrete, desirable wearables creating data to inform my care. What’s my risk of stroke? Did I struggle to get out of bed this morning? Am I managing my diabetes* well? And I want to control who sees which datasets I’ll be creating about myself.
  2. A smarter home. Right now, it’s a luxury to turn off lights via my phone or turn the heating up on the way home. But I can imagine relying much more on this if I’m less mobile. Beyond control, I’ll want a house that I can adapt to my future needs, anticipates what I want and communicates with me in an intuitive way.
  3. More sociable social media. This one’s really about connecting with people. However, technology can help. My family and friends are already spread out across the UK, and wider. I rely on the internet for a lot of my interaction with them already. Email and video chat will never replace meeting up in person. Face to face isn’t always possible, particularly if my mobility deteriorates. I’ll want the way I can communicate online to become more real, rewarding and substantive.
  4. Anything that helps me look after myself. Although my partner may disagree, I don’t need help getting dressed. I can cook and clean the house on my own. And I get around without fear of falling. I don’t want that to change. But if it does, I’d rather have a machine help me do something for myself than become reliant on someone else. There’s plenty out there already that could help - from robot vacuum cleaners to a Japanese-style wash and dry toilets.
  5. Commissioning my own care. I want to be able to find carers to help me if I need them. And I want this to be done with the same convenience I can currently hail a taxi through an app with. I’ll want to know that other people thought they provided a good service, and will treat me with dignity and respect. But I’ll want the same person each time. And I’ll want to know a bit more about them.

I’ll also need the infrastructure (e.g. broadband) underpinning all of these technologies to be up to date, accessible and affordable. And a common feature of each is that I want to use them now. A lot of effort has gone into designing and marketing them to me. I’m thinking about how to maintain my lifestyle as I like it, with tools I already use. I may feel differently about a new gadget I’ve never heard of and have never used.

But that’s just me, what do you think? Comment below or get in touch.

* I expect this is inevitable given my cake habit.

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  1. Comment by Marie Darwen posted on

    The technology is there to help but not everyone can afford wearables, smartphones and smart home gadgets? You also assume everyone will be able or willing to use the technology.

  2. Comment by Tom Wells posted on

    Thanks Marie, affordability is definitely a key issue. Although I'm hoping I have long enough that the kinds of things I've talked about will be very cheap by then! I hope what came across here is the things I'd like to support me, and I'm a technophile! I completely agree different people will want want different things.

    A key question for me is how do we design technology solutions in a way that makes them affordable, useful and desirable to as many people as possible?