Why enjoyment must be front and centre in the digital care revolution

Why enjoyment must be front and centre in the digital care revolution

Carrying technology in our pocket can be a real pleasure, but we’re all guilty of lowering expectations when it comes to care tech for our most vulnerable people…

Tech is ubiquitous in the homes and lives of older people and, from the rise of online shopping to the explosion in Zoom chats, the pandemic has played a part in its spread. 

As hope starts to dawn with the latest news on vaccines, many of us – including a large tranche of over 70s – will be using digital devices to keep themselves abreast of developments as they’re reported. 

Yet when it comes to using tech to improve autonomy, care and outcomes for our most vulnerable people, there’s still much room for improvement.

At Rethink Partners our COVID-19 response has included implementing virtual care and health and wellbeing support, deploying video carephones to vulnerable and shielding people.

This incredibly rewarding project has enriched our understanding of an effect we’ve seen across multiple health and care settings, and in the homes of those who could most benefit from the transformative effect of intuitive, customised and well-designed tech.

Our work with older people in Essex and elsewhere has shown us those identified as at risk are as discerning as any of us when it comes to the technology they let into their lives. But, we see basic, fixable issues seriously hampering uptake and use of care tech.

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An opportunity is being missed to help people embrace and enjoy support from care tech before their lives become more challenging, rather than trying to learn new processes as crises play out.

Why? Let’s be frank: for ourselves, we like apps and devices that are slick, intuitive and feel-good, so how many of us would be comfortable wearing ugly alarm pendants, or using stigmatising processes that highlight our frailties?

Research for our Digital Boomers project makes fascinating reading: older people in the population we studied are more tech-savvy than they realise, and their skills outstrip the assumptions made by their health and social care professionals and family members. We uncovered a sharp appetite for better tech in older generations, and a frustration with what’s currently available. Most importantly, the professionals, clinicians and family members older people trust most are overlaying their own prejudices and inhibitions about technology. As a result they don’t recommend or support use of technology that could bring fun, contact and practical help with the day-to -day business of living.

Pleasure is arguably an overlooked requirement of analogue care tech but our research shows older people want to have fun, and even have a competitive streak when it comes to adopting new habits. This is backed by a study by Lancaster University that suggests desirability of tech, or rather lack of it, contributes to the digital divide between young and old.

So what does a healthier approach to designing care tech of the future look like? When decluttering guru Marie Kondo encouraged her followers to retain only possessions that ‘spark joy’, she raised the bar for everything we give physical space in our lives.

If we want to implement real improvements in the care solutions we offer users shouldn’t we interrogate devices, software and apps with users needs foremost? Do existing choices really support our mission to help more people to independence, or is it time we thanked them and consigned them to the metaphorical bin?

It’s our belief that the care technology we deploy to help older people not only can spark joy, but must.