In general, the researchers found that people were receptive to the concept of healthcare technology, as long as it continues to provide them with a sense of control and empowerment. The elderly want to retain control over their lives and be involved in decision-making about their care. (Intel, 2008:3).
What is meant by "control and empowerment" becomes relevant. Comparing the types of technologies that these types of materials highlight indicates a bias in many ways toward assuming what the elderly want when they turn to technology. Roupa et al. (2010:119) looked quite literally at everything from everyday electrical appliances to TVs to ATMS, PCs and mobile phones and noticed a lack of interest almost across the board (something that is no longer the case). Intel placed its emphasis on high-level monitoring technologies (sensors) that could be incorporated into a home or even a community setting to allow for full-scale tracking of the elderly who either stayed home or used these kinds of public resources (not something the people had to be directly involved with). Intel closed their discussion by talking about their "SHIMMER (Sensing Health with Intelligence, Modularity, Mobility, and Experimental Reusability) [which] is a project to develop a small sensing device that is suitable for long-term wear and can be used to capture physiological and behavioral data" (Intel, 2008:6). They believe their work will allow for the elderly to be able to "age in place" (stay home instead of moving to an assisted care facility) as they experience poorer health.
To see the issue from a life-span perspective, it is worth reviewing two additional sources of information. The first is a publication of the AARP, which they entitled Connected Living for Social Aging: Design Technology for All. As they noted about their focus, "A single conclusion emerged through a series of interviews with a range of thought leaders -- to ensure this outcome technology must be designed for all. To achieve this, the 'lens' of every user group must be a conscious part of the design function" (Orlov, 2011:2).
This tone is far different from those of the previous studies. AARP notes that baby boomers and those over age 50 are not only increasingly likely to have a cell phone, laptop or game console, they are one of the fastest growing segments to adapt to social networking resources (Orlov, 2011:3). But even this doesn't offer much guidance because the full reflection of the voices of older Americans has not yet been heard. What the AARP believes the elderly are saying is that they want a far greater reach of technological options that can help across the all age segments; this will allow them to make a much better judgment about health and non-health benefits. Older people want to be creative, innovative, interconnected and even active consumers of all types of products for their needs (Hough, n.d.), even if they actually do want technologies to help keep them healthier. Buying access to online medicines or other systems might be far different from being fully engaged in social networking opportunities where communities of people offer help or encourage empowerment.
A second published study in a related topic is also helpful in understanding the sense of broader reach that AARP wants. This piece is an impressive review of the impact of technology on the elderly who are living with or may be subject to dementia (Kenner, 2008). Though Securing the Elderly Body appears to approach the subject from the viewpoint of technology being just for helping with serious mental impairment, its voice is far more comprehensive. The article does an exceptional job of reviewing medical, caregiver and even law enforcement considerations on taking care of those who may be suffering from progressively advancing brain conditions. For good and for bad, technology is being used in this regard to offer some remarkable solutions to very serious caregiver circumstances. Kenner (2008:253) very much agrees that it will be possible to incorporate monitoring systems of all kinds into the homes of people who might have a proclivity to wander because of their impairments (something of concern to families and law enforcement). But the same underlying technology has much more to offer doctors and supportive professionals for serious and much less serious medical conditions of all types. In a great summary of the topic as a whole, the author concludes her assessment of the situation by noting that research and innovation can be important in either restricting or enabling freedoms in many ways:
Surveillance systems can address the needs of caregivers, the elderly who wish to age in place, and broader social institutions, but current articulations of these systems do not explicitly challenge the ideologies and structural inequalities that disadvantage the elderly in the first place; if anything they re-entrench and reinforce the norms, hierarchies, and oppression of ageism by rendering them invisible (Kenner, 2008:266).
The work of the AARP is valuable on many fronts. First it is the end result of a recognized study and survey of older people, and thus gives a very broad perspective on the topic. But it is also important because it provides its own conclusions that further clarify how the different theories of aging come into play when they relate to aging and the evolution of health technologies.
Their assessment ends by outlining very clearly that there are numerous avenues for those who create technological solutions to look much further than just addressing the specific health negatives of the elderly (Orlov, 2011:18-20). Technology is helping people live longer and enjoy a more fruitful life. Not surprisingly, people all along the spectrum of aging have their own goals and expectations (a perfect match to life-span assumptions) that they want to be able to take advantage of. As they summarize the findings of their survey, they note that technology makes distances shorter and opportunities grander. Vender who build the technologies have to recognize this so that older people have a full selection of choices to meet their immediate and long-term health or assistance needs, but also to allow themselves to be more engaged in the digital universe. In crafting a larger connectivity experience, developing public and private partnerships, broadening the communication ranges of the equipment, etc., everyone will be able to see technology as being something that crosses all stages of growth. As such it will not be possible to limit what it can do for the elderly or for anyone else. It may even be possible to add even better to the work that Erikson's family has continued in growing his perception to the ninth stage and beyond.
Brown, C. And Lowis, M. (2003). "Psychosocial development in the elderly: An investigation into Erikson's ninth stage." Journal of Aging Studies. Vol. 17. 415-426.
Heckhausen, J., Wrosch, C. And Schulz, R. (2010). "A motivational theory of life-span development." Psychological Review. Vol. 117, No. 1. 32-60. DOI: 10.1037/a0017668.
Hough, M.G. (n.d.). "Exploring elder consumers' interactions with information technology." Journal of Business & Economics Research, Vol. 2, No. 6.
Intel (2008). "Technology for an aging population: Intel's Global Research Initiative." Viewable at http://www.intel.com/Assets/PDF/general/health-318883001.pdf.
Kenner, A.M. (2008). "Securing the Elderly Body: Dementia, Surveillance, and the Politics of "Aging in Place." Surveillance & Society., Vol. 5, No. 3.
Orlov, L. (2011). "Connected living for social aging: Designing technology for all." AARP. Viewable at http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/technology/innovations/2011_04/Connected-Living-for-Social-Change.pdf.
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