Technology can help older people who forget

New research has looked at how technology can be used to provide reminders to assist older people in decision making. These assistive technologies have significant potential to help older people and their carers in everyday life. The research investigated the reminder systems currently used by a small group of older people, their attitudes to technology, and, through some simple experiments, their reaction to certain reminders presented using a variety of simple technologies and formats. The project developed a prototype ‘living room’ system featuring a wireless network connecting typical home devices, including a telephone (conventional and cordless), a remote control device, analogue radio,  TV and computer. The devices were adapted so they could be interrupted by a hidden researcher to present synchronised persuasive messages to the user. The research found that older people currently use different personal reminder strategies. These often include relying on family members who may give phone call reminders, keeping diaries, calendars and notes, and memory joggers. The participants were asked how persuasive and intrusive the reminders were. It found that to be effective, messages and messaging systems need to be tailored to the particular behaviours and routines of individuals. The participants disliked impersonal services, such as those provided by call-centres, and preferred the interaction that accompanies a telephone conversation. The format and delivery of automated reminders needs to be straightforward and able to capture the attention of the individual without becoming bewildering to manage or irritating. The reminder system has to be simple and capable of being operated in an intuitive fashion. The participants had little experience in using modern technology such as computers and had little confidence in using it. Dr Shaun Lawson from the University of Lincoln said, “Various technology-based reminder systems were trialled in our study with some success, although the effectiveness of a particular system was to some extent dependent on the particular activity taking place at the time. For example, spoken reminders worked well when someone was undertaking a quiet task such as reading, but less so when watching TV, for which, repeated on-screen messages worked best. Overall, it appears that to be effective, messages and messaging systems have to be tailored to the particular behaviours and routines of the individual.”

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