Smart Technology Works for Older People, Too
New technologies offer insurers the opportunity to build more engaged relationships with their customers. Fitness-linked insurance programmes, for example, are attractive to active people who have access to technology and a desire to use it. While wearables and apps are most closely associated with promoting physical fitness, technology is increasingly being put to use in lifestyle monitoring of the elderly and others in need of care.
Technology that is simple to understand and use works best. Some older people find the latest gadgets baffling. Even after a device has been set up and explained, they often have little confidence and remain sceptical of the benefits. Health problems make some devices hard to operate, while the cost and lack of access to technology is another barrier. Despite the challenges, the percentage of people using technology in later life is rising fast.
UK figures show 75% of people 65-74 years old now have access to the Internet and more than one-third own a smartphone.1 Among the individuals over 75, one-quarter use tablets and 41% have a social media account.2 Three quarters of smartphone-owning older Americans use the Internet several times a day or more.3 These numbers are all pretty close to those seen in much younger age groups.4
It’s no surprise the baby-boomer generation is digitally engaged, but new technologies can also provide interventions for much older adults, and many of them are eager adopters.5 Ageing populations create new opportunities for products and services. The UK government has committed to invest in innovation to meet the needs that result from this demographic change.6
Telecare and telehealth are technological interventions to deliver services at a distance from the provider. Smart homes, assistive robots, technology-based wellness and therapeutics can all promote an independent lifestyle for older people, not only providing for their physical and cognitive fitness but also entertainment, leisure and wellbeing.
There are reasons other than cost-saving for technological solutions to help older people remain independent, including assistance with everyday tasks compensating for lost physical or cognitive function.7 In Japan where 25% of the population are senior, the predicted shortfall of caregivers by 2025 is likely to be met by nursing-care robots currently being developed with government backing.8 Caregivers also enjoy positive outcomes by experiencing less worry. For example, tracking how a person with dementia interacts with a virtual assistant device - the questions they ask it and how often, the tone and cadence of their voice - could be helpful in spotting cognitive changes, as could analysis of onscreen scrolling and mouse movement.
Phones and tablets provide isolated people information and links to social networks for friendship, help and support. Technology sends reminders about medication. Sensors monitor sleep, kitchen activity and walking speed, and raise the alarm if a person has a fall. Behavioural data from self-learning intelligent software allows carers to analyse patterns of behaviour, spot negative trends and intervene quickly.
Before insurers embark on building more digital engagement programmes, it is important to know how they can appeal to the wide range of customers. It is important to maximize the potential for understanding how older adults perceive technology, and providing help with setup and ongoing support. In the Netherlands, several insurers now reimburse users employing home sensors and others are experimenting with reimbursements on wearables.9 More will surely follow since technology might prevent hospitalisation or worse.
Concerns remain over potential security and privacy risks these technologies pose. Monitoring must be structured in an ethical way that is compliant with data laws, and there must be a person-centred approach ensuring tangible benefit for the person concerned. The pressure on health services is increasing as the numbers of elderly people continue to rise, and developed technologies that address these concerns can help reduce the overall costs of prevention and monitoring.10
- Adults’ Media Use and Attitudes Report, Ofcom, 2018.
- Tech adoption climbs among older adults, Pew Research Center, 2016.
- Technology and Older People Evidence Review, Age UK.
- Vaportzis, E. et al, 2016, Older Adults Perceptions of Technology and Barriers to Interacting with Tablet Computers: A Focus Group Study, Front Psychol. 2017; 8: 1687. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01687.
- Ibid., at Note 4.