Geoffrey gives a good point in his blogpost “The fear of falling”. If we want to get an insight in how the elderly react on technology, it helps to know what is on their mind. When researchers asked the elderly what their greatest fear was, fear of falling ranked first when compared to other common fears (i.e., fear of robbery, financial fears,…)*. Geoffrey gave a possible solution to the problem which could be implemented in the future. I, on the other hand want to give another view on this problem. Where Geoffrey speaks of a possible prevention to falling in the future, I will elaborate on a solution what to do if the fall has occurred, namely a Personal Emergency Response System also referred to as a ‘panic button’. These devices are worn by the senior so that when he or she falls and isn’t capable of getting back up, the button can be pressed, immediately warning family and/or emergency crews. There are even devices on the marked that will detect “falling movements” and will call out for help by themselves.
Our grandmother lives alone in a big house, far from where we live. About a year ago, we gave our grandmother such a device. That way we didn’t need to be worried all the time that she would fall. But after some time it turned out that most of the time she wouldn’t wear the device, rendering it utterly useless. And as Karel has said in his recent post, so was the case with a similar device given to their grandmother.
And these examples are not coincidences. A study performed by the BMJ group showed that 80% owning a similar device didn’t activate it after having fallen. The main reasons for this (apart from some cases where the senior just was physically unable to push the button) was that they either didn’t wore the device or wore it but didn’t wanted to use it. Both reasons more or less had a similar cause. The device wasn’t appropriately adapted to the person wearing it. The devices are commonly seen as unattractive and ugly. On top of that the elderly don’t want to use it for fear of ending up in a hospital or for not wanting any help getting up.
So my conlusion is simple yet groundbreaking: Although our elderly citizens see falling as their greatest fear, they refuse to use devices helping out in such an instance because they aren’t really adapted to the needs and wishes of the bearer.
This gives yet another example of how there should be put more effort from the engineers designing technology to designing them to the needs of the elderly. Our senior citizens should be seen as a totally separate target group. Also there should be more effort invested in trying to make out what the Elder wants, and not only what their children/grandchildren want for them. Allas, it is mostly the latter that buys the devices, making it an economically difficult task.
*Fear of Falling among the Community-Dwelling Elderly J.Howland et All Aging Health May 1993 vol. 5 no. 2 229-243
** BMJ 2008;337:a2227