New smartphone helps elderly people stay connected - Heritage Healthcare Trafford

Can this new smartphone help elderly people stay connected?

Image of two analogue radios - Can this new technology help elderly people stay connected

Shockingly only 20% of over-75’s in the UK have smartphones compared to 95% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK. Researchers have found that the constant change in digital technologies is one of the major contributors to this, however, this new technology helps elderly people broadcast their thoughts and opinions more easily and more effectively – whilst taking into consideration health concerns.

Is innovation bad for elderly people?

Digital technologies change fast, become obsolete quickly and usually requires attention to learn how to use them. This can help provide an explanation as to why most older adults tend to use what they know best when it comes to communication. This may be the reason why older adults prefer to call via landline or basic mobile, rather than send a quick text or social media update.

An innovative new way for older people to be able to communicate with others

Gabriella Spinelli, who is the Reader in Design Innovation at Brunel University London, and her college Massimo Miocci, Research Associate in Human Factors, have recently designed a more modern device to help elderly people stay in frequent touch with instant updates. This is a similar concept to social media; however, this new technology draws on smart materials which the authors of the new technology called “design metaphors”. This new technology hopes to make technology more accessible to the elderly.

When older adults do not have access to instant messaging, a phone or a visit may be the only solution to check on their loved ones. Doing so can be time-consuming – especially when you need to check on them daily. Similarly, the elderly individual may refrain from calling their loved one to send them an update as they will think they are causing their loved one an inconvenience. Whilst there are products that specialise in monitoring and recording people’s movements around the house, they often feel like an invasion of privacy.

The creators of this new technology, Spinelli and Miocci, took this into consideration which makes staying connected easier. The product itself looks like an analogue radio. It allows users to:

  • Transmit information about your activity.
  • Captures your heart rate through a wearable heartbeat sensor provided.
  • Provides a secure line between you and your loved one, giving you a sense of privacy.
  • Provides/shares feedback on how energetic your current activity is – for example, if you are being active around the house, such as gardening or if they are relaxing at home e.g. reading a book.

The design of the radio looking device makes it easier for users to work out how to use it, based on their previous interactions with the traditional radio.

New technology is giving users back their privacy?

There is a wide range of technologies out there to enable people to monitor family members – however how many of them are fully passive, and provides users with both convenience and privacy? The traditional methods have not been embraced by everyone as many adults feel that they are fully passive, where adults are observed directly through cameras and sensors around their homes. Traditional communication methods can hinder the momentum when you are being active. For instance, when you are doing a chore, you must stop what you are doing and respond to the notification on your mobile phone.

This new device not only brings back the nostalgia of using a radio but also lets elderly people choose the level of communication they want. The system is designed to run in the background and doesn’t transmit confidential information such as images of people in their homes. This makes it a less intrusive way of informing loved ones that you are ok.

Instead of having an information screen display text or images, the display uses smart materials to convey what the user was doing. In this context, smart materials are those that can change colour, shape, viscosity or how much light they emit. This makes it easier to understand, interpret and remember. The inventors found that the market research they conducted showed that light-emitting materials were the best way of conveying messages without words for both under and over-60’s.

Where can I get one?  

Unfortunately, this radio device is still in the research prototype stage and is not ready for mass consumption. The device has allowed innovators and researchers to understand that the combination of innovative materials and familiar artefacts can be a successful way to resolve the communication problem amongst older adults. In this new way, smart materials and design metaphors could help build the digital gap and promote innovation among older consumers.  

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