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COLUMN: Fear of intrusion or change? Why older people can initially reject care technology

Rob Padwick Image cropped

By Rob Padwick, clinical lead for Assisted Living at Secure Meters UK

Over recent years I’ve been drawing on my 30 years of occupational therapy experience to help develop Beanbag Care – a suite of smart, connected care solutions.

It’s been a fantastic challenge, and has allowed me the opportunity to reflect on the differing needs of so many of the people I’ve met and worked with over the years.

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All frontline OTs can attest to how two people, in what appear to be very similar life circumstances, can react very differently to a proposed care plan.

After all, individual temperaments and life experiences mean that one person’s welcomed help and company is another person’s unwanted intrusion. Everyone’s different.

Welcomed company or unwanted intrusion

Some of us will be lucky enough to go through life without the need for care support at home, but if we do, it is important to consider how it might feel to accept a stranger in the home, and how and why people can interpret this scenario so differently.

In 2018, as part of the development of Beanbag Care, I facilitated a focus group of eight older adults ranging in age from 63 to 92, on the subject of ‘the benefits of technology enabled care in older life’.

I posed the question ‘how would you feel about a carer visiting you’. Some of the answers given were:

I don’t want strangers visiting me.’

If I knew what they looked like and their name I guess it would be ok.

I would need to know why I needed them to and what time they were coming.

I would welcome the company; would they come again?

It depends what I was doing at the time.

In my experience most of the older adults have a set routine to their day and week, and if there’s going to be a change to their care schedule, such as a new carer visiting, they like to know in advance.

Having this information well ahead of schedule gives them time to feel mentally and physically ready for the visit – so less anxious and more at ease with the situation.

Less intrusion equals good right?

So you’d assume that technologies that lessen human ‘intrusion’ in exchange for remote wellbeing monitoring would be a preferred alternative, and while yes, many do grasp these benefits, others see technology as opening up another possible level of imposition.

‘No thank you. I’m fine as I am’.

But the reasons why people are wary of technology are often very different to the reasons why they decline physical home care. In my opinion resistance to technology is linked more to a fear of change than feelings of intrusion.

For example, recent research undertaken by Lancaster University proposes that older people can reject technology for all sorts of reasons:

“Researchers found that personally held values to do with the desirability of technology, wider concerns regarding its impact on society, and fears of getting things wrong when using software are also significant factors holding back technology use among older adults.”

So older adults can be scared of technology because it may mean of letting others down or losing face by making a mistake.

Fear of change

An article published by Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the Harvard Business Review sheds further light on some of the reasons behind our fear of change.

Some of these are more obvious, such as an uncertainty and a loss of control, while others are more subtle, including self-concerns about competence and face saving.

I totally understand where these worries come from.

Although Beanbag Care’s services are designed to have a minimal impact on the service user’s life, with the system’s home sensors designed to blend into the background of the home and forgotten about, the idea of being ‘monitored’ 24/7 by almost invisible devices can take a little getting used to.

We’re talking about powerful technology here – technology that anyone of any age needs explaining and putting into context.

Just live your life

However, I think the big positive realisation is when older people understand that they don’t need to change or adapt, and the system does all the work for them. They can’t break it, or mess it up, or let anyone down.

All they have to do is go about their normal daily business without any obvious hardware reminding them (or their visitors for that matter), of their frailties or disabilities.

So now, rather than an older person having to be in and ready for a scheduled care visit regardless of their wellbeing, the carer can use the technology to decide ‘does this person need assistance?’

All that said, many older people feel isolated and lonely and can welcome the company of their carer, even if there’s little physical reason to see them.

Although the Beanbag Care tablet allows the user to video call loved ones at the press of a button, this should not be a total substitute for person-to-person human contact, and ideally, technology will be blended into care plans that will help to better balance the needs of older people with available care resources.

So in summary, I’d say that it’s vital that older people who need support today aren’t denied the life-improving benefits provided by technology such as Beanbag Care, but we must understand the underlying fears that sometimes prevent people embracing change and enjoying more independent lives. 

Rob Padwick is the clinical lead for Assisted Living at Secure Meters UK Ltd, the exclusive developer and supplier of Beanbag Care. Email Rob at Robert.Padwick@securemeters.com or follow him on LinkedIn.


Tags : Beanbag Caretechnology
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke