What is Assistive Technology & Will it Change the Lives of Elderly People?

The advance of technology is radically changing many areas of life, but a fascinating area concerns assistive technology. As more people are living longer and want to retain independence longer, assistive technology can support people to carry out various daily tasks. This article looks at what assistive technology is in terms of the elderly, covers some examples of assistive technology in different areas of daily living, and looks to the future of how this sector could develop.

What is assistive technology?

It’s tempting to think of assistive technology as a new term that only encompasses the very high-tech. In reality, assistive technology as a concept is actually nothing new. As long as humans have been using tools to ‘get things done’ they’ve been using assistive technology! Eyeglasses are believed to have been an Italian invention between 1268 and 1289 for example! There’s evidence of a wheelchair dating from 5th Century China!

Specifically, we can think of assistive technology as being any tool, aid or device that helps an individual to carry out a task inhibited by disability. For the elderly, for example, this could be something as simple as a walking frame to assist mobility. The aim of the technology is to enable individuals to perform acts of daily living which might otherwise be difficult or impossible. It’s all about functionality.

Assistive technology isn’t just used for the elderly. It can be used for individuals living with disability or with an injury, compensating for what they are unable to do.

However, while it is an umbrella term covering many things, assistive technology is increasingly coming to refer to more complex and high-tech solutions using digital technology as a solution. Therefore, for many of us, when we think of assistive technology, we are now usually referring to things such as wearable devices which could, for example, link to an alarm system.

woman wears personal alarm around her neck

Image Source: Which

Examples of assistive technology

There are many different types of assistive technology ranging from the low-tech to the high-tech. They include hardware, computer software and hardware, digital devices and more.

Examples of assistive technology include:

  • Hardware such as: positioning devices, walking sticks, wheelchairs, spectacles, pill dosage organisers, grips, handles, magnifiers, dressing aids, and memory aids.
  • Digital and electronic hardware such as: hearing aids, voice amplification systems, stair lifts, and remote controlled appliances.
  • Digital software such as: Screen readers, communication aids, reminder systems and audio books.

More cutting-edge examples of assistive technology include things such as wearables to detect when an elderly individual may be unwell, or remote cameras for checking on the safety and wellbeing of a loved one.

The right assistive technology needed will vary from individual to individual depending on their personal needs and difficulties. New solutions are coming onto the market regularly. You can look at

The future of assistive technology for the elderly

Technology is changing rapidly, especially within the digital arena. More and more we are seeing devices and solutions being developed which will help to transform the lives of elderly people, helping them to retain greater independence for longer.

Increasingly, older people are using assistive technology. We are finding that sometimes it’s a case of using devices as they were intended. In others, loved ones and elderly people themselves are using technologies in new ways to solve their specific issues. With elderly people, it is important to introduce assistive technology before it is too late to learn to use it. However, when they are used, assistive technologies can provide workaround solutions that make many aspects of daily living much easier.

Remote monitoring

Increasingly, assistive technology is being used for remote monitoring in the care of elderly people. There is a place for this and can be very helpful. For example, being able to use motion-sensor cameras to remotely check the arrival and leaving time of home carers can help loved ones feel reassured that the care being paid for is in fact being provided.

Assistive technology for remote monitoring includes things such as wearable technology which collects health data, or data on things like movement, eating and drinking. They might also include things like service robots, sensors and alarms.

These technologies do have a role to play. However, it’s important to remember that as yet there is very minimal testing and evaluation of whether these types of technology improve or worsen things such as hospital admissions or even quality of life. At the end of the day, assistive technology absolutely cannot replace human-to-human care.

It is our belief instead that assistive technology should be used alongside human-to-human care, so that effectively the elderly individual gets the best of both worlds. For example, video conferencing has been hugely important throughout the pandemic for helping elderly individuals stay in touch with their families, but it cannot and shouldn’t replace the face-to-face interaction that is so important for wellbeing.

What assistive technology could help?

With so many different types of available assistive technology, it can be difficult to know which to choose. Some, for example, reading glasses, seem obvious when needed. However, you may not even know that a new assistive technology exists, or how it could help.

Occupational therapists are at the forefront of knowing which assistive technology may be helpful to an individual with care needs. However, do bear in mind that many occupational therapists will specifically recommend more classic devices such as walking aids and chair risers. For more cutting-edge digital solutions, you may need to do your own research. It’s helpful to know that these digital assistive technologies are often very expensive in the first year or so that they are on the market, and then become more affordable over time.

Do remember to factor in the learning process of using the assistive technology. For many elderly people, ‘intuitive’ designs are far from intuitive when they haven’t had a lifetime of using digital solutions. Remember that the aim is to support the individual and make things easier for them, so if the learning process is distressing, then it may not be the right technology for them.

Nonetheless, choose assistive technology carefully and wisely and it can improve an individual’s independence, functioning and quality of life.