What my father taught me.

My father has a laptop, a smartphone, a smart home alarm, a kindle, a tablet and a smart TV. He’s 76 years old. Does he know how to fully use them all? Not yet! Have I set up, installed and educated him (and my mother) on all of them? Definitely. Without my help, my parents would get through and know no different – but they wouldn’t be using the technology to the best of its capability. Maybe that’s ok? Not in my view.

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The older generation are, of course, more creative than we give them credit. My father, not knowing how to take a screenshot on his iPad, laid it on his scanner, scanned the screen and sent me an image of it on email. It’s not optimal but it is resourceful and functional. But how do we go one better? How do we ensure that people like my father, and those with symptoms of ageing or chronic diseases, can get the best from technology to have an easier, not harder life?

Personally, I feel that we need to focus less on technology and more on behaviours and benefits. As we grow older, there’s a known decline in our cognitive capability and the speed at which we process information. So focusing on the jargon of tech is rarely helpful. Instead of explaining the technical intricacies of GPS, AI or NFC, it makes more sense to describe their benefits in simple, relatable ways. For example, explaining that Apple Pay means you can pay with a phone as if it’s a credit card is likely to be far more understandable. It pays to keep things simple (no pun intended).

There are some great examples where existing technologies can be reapplied to proactively assist the older population. For example, Google Maps knows when we’re leaving work and can advise on routes and arrival times to routine destinations like home. This could be reengineered to support older people – or people with conditions like Alzheimer’s – advising family members whether their loved ones are following their normal habits, or providing guidance to help them along their journey. Accelerometers in phones are already being used in clinical trials to measure and assess gait – these could be used to monitor changes in gait and predict (and subsequently avert) falls. Smart watches and other wearables are an enormous opportunity.

Technology is certainly advancing to support the mobility challenges associated with growing old. As it does, telemedicine, home monitoring and smaller self-sufficient devices will only become more prominent.Yet older people still want to age independently whilst having the appropriate understanding of technology to satisfy their needs.

Similar to the launch of the iPad many years ago – where Apple created a market for something none of us knew existed – we need to embrace the needs and insights of the audience, but also do some proactive thinking on their behalf.

Voice technology will play a huge role, especially as Amazon Alexa and Google Home become more affordable and accessible. Connecting Alexa to technology such as Tile or other identifiers can allow people to find their keys, wallet or phone. And it can help perform more autonomous tasks such as auto lighting when entering a room for easy navigation and smart fridges (when affordable) ensuring milk, bread and other essentials are well stocked. I love https://www.see-sound.com/ and the challenge it solves.

Longer term, with all the data we’ll have available and the altruistic world we live in, I’d love to think of communities donating power to those less well-off and fragile at an older age during the older months – and powering their Nest heating to ensure they’re cared for as the dark months approach us.

But that’s for the future. For now, my father has just phoned and needs help because his email isn’t working. This, amongst all the other things, makes me realise how unfriendly technology can be and how we need to educate, improve CX and see it from someone else’s POV. I best go.

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