Emerging Technologies for Enrichment in Old Age

At the frontier of new technological developments

Technology is often hailed as a solution for addressing the so-called challenges of an ageing society. As more people live into their 90s and beyond, many new technologies are being used to monitor and support older adults. But new technologies are not only being used for surveillance and monitoring. They are also being used to enrich the social and emotional lives of older adults.

We are now at the frontier of new technological developments that promise numerous benefits for people in advanced old age. Technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), social robots, and gesture-based gaming are being used in a range of aged care settings to promote active ageing or to provide social and emotional wellbeing. However, deploying these technologies in aged care settings is not straightforward. Aged care is a sensitive setting and emerging technologies are unpredictable.

Evaluations of these technologies are just beginning to emerge – but much remains unknown.  How do we ensure emerging technologies are designed and deployed so they achieve the intended social or emotional benefits? How do we avoid situations where technology is experienced as confusing or a burden, rather than an opportunity?

Take, for example, virtual reality. As shown in this video, virtual reality provides a rich immersive experience in which the viewer feels as though they are fully participating in a virtual world. VR is said to offer many benefits for people in residential aged care, especially those with dementia: VR experiences can be calming, meditative, and provide an escape to places older people can no longer travel to in the real world. But there are also challenges: VR is resource-intensive, requiring one-on-one assistance from care staff, and there are concerns it may cause confusion or distress if the virtual worlds are not designed for individual users.

A four-year project, funded by the Australian Research Council, will examine how emerging technologies, like virtual reality, are being used for enrichment in old age. The project aims to identify strategies for good practice in the design and deployment of emerging technologies for enrichment in old age.

In the first stage of the project, in 2018, examples of technology-based enrichment experiences in aged care will be examined through a series of surveys, interviews, and case studies. If you are interested in being involved or learning more about this research, please contact Jenny Waycott: jwaycott@unimelb.edu.au.

[Source: Dr Jenny Waycott, Senior Lecturer in Computing and Information Systems, Melbourne School of Engineering, University of Melbourne, jwaycott@unimelb.edu.au.]