SCIE Research briefing 28: Assistive technology and older people

By Roger Beech and Diane Roberts

Published August 2008


This briefing will focus on various forms of assistive technology (AT) supplied to people over the age of 65. AT can be defined as ‘ umbrella term for any device or system that allows an individual to perform a task they would otherwise be unable to do or increases the ease and safety with which the task can be performed.’

An alternative definition which emphasises the role of AT in maximising the independence of older people is, ‘AT is any product or service designed to enable independence for disabled and older people.’

The technologies embraced by these definitions include devices that might form part of ‘telecare’ and ‘telehealth’ service packages (that is, assistance devices linked to response teams via a person’s telephone, such as community alarm services, detectors or monitors of fire, gas or falls). The definitions also embrace a range of technologies from low-level to high-tech devices, however. These may also include more general technologies such as access to the internet which might have a role in promoting the independence and wellbeing of older people. When reviewing the research evidence for this briefing paper, this broad perspective of AT was adopted.

The briefing does not examine how specific devices work or their specific uses, but focuses on the ways in which such devices may be used by individuals, practitioners and organisations in meeting the needs of older people. It is a priority in AT to help people remain in their own homes, increasing their independence and reducing their social isolation. The briefing therefore examines some of the claims about the benefits of AT for people who use services and for health and social care organisations, addressing some of the challenges that have been identified to date. The majority of material used relates to the United Kingdom, with the addition of studies undertaken in other countries where these illuminate points relevant to the UK health and social care system.

Key messages

  • The term ‘assistive technology’ incorporates a wide variety of devices.
  • Assistive technology can be supportive, preventive or responsive.
  • The increasing proportion of older people in the population makes the use of assistive technology an attractive option in social services.
  • Perceptions vary as to whether or not assistive technology has sufficient benefits.
  • Existing research supports the greater use of assistive technology but further evaluation and ‘local learning’ is needed.
  • The views and needs of people using assistive technology need to be taken into account.


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