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The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee recently published a report, which outlines a series of recommendations to the UK Government for reducing healthy inequalities amongst older people through the provision of assistive technology.

Called ‘Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living’, the report explores how health services could be coordinated to better treat people with multiple age-related illnesses. The committee also makes a series of important recommendations to the government about how assistive technology services could be deployed more widely to support independent living in old age.

On page 92, the report considers the current barriers to uptake of technology and services to support older people.

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The committee says that a significant barrier to uptake of technologies and services that assist healthy and independent living in old age is that they are often designed without input from older people and so might not address the right issues.

Age UK told the Science and Technology Committee that older people are often not targeted for fitness and health applications, making them unsuitable for use. The report suggests that as the technology sector is made up largely by younger people, there could be a culture that is overtly disinterested in designing products for older people.

Alongside inappropriate technologies, a lack of knowledge about the devices available could be a barrier to uptake of technology and services. Stuart Butterfield, Chief Executive of Canary Care, told the Science and Technology Committee that there is a lack of awareness of the current products and services available for older people, such as telecare devices. He also said that there are “local authorities that buy systems that sit unused”.

To make technologies and services more available to older people, the committee makes the following recommendation to government: “In order to improve uptake and usefulness of technologies and services that can contribute to healthier and independent living in old age, it is important to base the process of development and deployment around older people’s needs, preferences and abilities. It is beneficial for older people to be involved in the design of these products and services.”

The report further found that the cost of technologies and related adjustments to homes is preventing uptake for individuals and public bodies. Stuart added that a lack of evidence surrounding cost-effectiveness of assistive technology and services puts off public bodies and individuals from implementing technology services.

To encourage local authorities to implement assistive technology services for older people, the report advises joining up the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) and Integrated Community Equipment Services (ICES) funding streams. At present, only the DFG is part of the Better Care Fund, which brings together budgets from health, social care and housing to enable the NHS and councils to work together, as equal partners, with shared objectives. The committee suggests that the DFG and ICES fund should be in the same funding pot to join up DFG services with equipment provision and minor housing adaptations.

Similar to the lack of age-friendly technology designs, the report alludes to the idea that a lack of digital literacy amongst older people is a major barrier to the uptake of new independent living technologies.

Age UK told the committee that as health information and services are increasingly accessed online, digital technology is now a form of health literacy, which correlates with health outcomes.

To improve digital literacy amongst older people, the committee says that the UK Government should ensure internet access for all homes so that older people can access services to help them live independently and in better health.

“The Government should promote and support lifelong digital skills training so that people enter old age with the ability to use beneficial technologies,” the report continues. “Greater support should be provided to the large proportion of the current older generation which lacks these skills, so that they do not miss out on the benefits of available technologies.”

In November 2020, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the TEC Services Association (TSA) set up a commission to explore how better access to technology could improve joint working between health, social care and housing and offer more preventative, responsive support, shaped around the individual.

In March 2021, the commission will launch its final report, which will include a series of practical recommendations to central and local government on how to scale up and mainstream the use of everyday devices, data insights and specialist technology to extend people’s healthy lifespans and enrich their lives.

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