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Challenging preconceptions of older people and technology.

By Tim Barclay, CEO, Appello 

Challenging preconceptions of older people and technology.

When I have the privilege of visiting our customers’ social housing and retirement properties, I’m always keen to take note of the technologies within their homes. Despite the advanced age of many of these residents, you may be surprised to hear that to date, I have never entered a home without finding some of the most sophisticated consumer technology available.

When the phrase ‘technology’ is used, it often conjures up images of complex and sophisticated devices, but that’s just a preconception, much like the preconception that the older generation can’t use technology. Whenever I visit those retirement developments there will always be technology – sometimes it’s smartphones, laptops and tablets but at the very least there will be a television.

The reasons this is very significant is because we have all on occasions been guilty of assuming that technology is overly complicated or unappealing for our older generations.

When we first launched our suite of digital telecare services in 2016, frequently we would be met with an assumption that anything digital was beyond the capabilities of our older generations. Fast forward five years and our services are market-leading, supporting thousands of residents daily. Those housing providers who could see the need to move forward have found their residents embracing technology that improves their lives. So, what have we learnt?

Assumptions

One of the prevalent aspects of the STOPageism campaign, that struck a chord with Appello was the need for us all to move away from categorising individuals. Our older generations have only one thing in common and that is their age, there are no other attributes that can be associated with this cohort of our society – not health, wealth or gender. As for their current use of technology, it will most likely be related to their life experiences, and that does not determine their future ability to use technology if it is available to them.

Assuming technology is beyond our older generations is making decisions on their behalf and limiting their choice and ability to access services that can improve their lives. Instead, we should ask the question to them of what they want to achieve and then develop solutions that are simple to use and deliver those aims. Realistically we know that not 100% will want to use new services, but that shouldn’t be to the detriment to the others that do, especially as we know that the next generations will be even more expectant of innovative, modern services.

Benefits

I referred earlier to the TV, a large piece of equipment, incredibly sophisticated, often connected to the internet. That description sounds scary, but we all know that it is one of the most used things in the home. In fact, worryingly, in 2015, AgeUK reported that 49% of older people think their TV or pet is their main form of company.

This statistic is very important because it highlights the value that those surveyed are placing on their ‘technology’. When we talk about technology we should focus on the benefits, the reasons why innovation can improve lives. By placing the emphasis on the benefits and creating compelling use cases – such as reducing social isolation – we create appetite amongst those who previously were unsure why they might become engaged.

Naturally, this leads to a greater desire to understand how technology works. This is not age-related; at any point in your life, if you don’t understand how a product will benefit you, you have very little desire to invest time in learning to use it.

This has been highlighted to Appello throughout 2020. As many of our customers were required to shield, their ability to communicate and have face-to-face interaction with others was removed almost overnight. For these customers our digital Smart Living Solutions became their main form of communication, the video calling capability was their sole way of seeing the person they were speaking to for weeks, and we saw a 192% increase in usage.

What had happened was the value of Smart Living Solutions to these customers had gone through the roof. This does not mean it was not previously valued, we already had outstanding feedback and survey results, but it became even more valuable, especially amongst those who had used it less before.

COVID has become a driver for many to adopt technology in all forms, those aged 65+ have seen the biggest increase in online shopping since COVID, and that is expected to continue as they now see the advantages more clearly. Similarly, technology to support wellbeing will continue to grow. So, as we move into a new year, let’s remove any preconceptions of who can benefit from technology and innovation. Let’s focus instead on making it easy to use and with benefits that make it clearly worthwhile to the customer.

 

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