UK must do more to encourage uptake of assistive tech at home, report claims

Tech like Amazon Echo is increasingly being adopted to aid independent living. Image credit: David Becker/Getty Images

The UK is lagging behind the rest of the world in adopting smart technology for the home and needs the government and suppliers to invest more in ‘smart homes’ to cope with an aging population.

That’s according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers which calls on designers, manufacturers and marketers in the assistive tech sector to “pay greater attention to the needs, attitudes and capabilities of older people…to satisfy and stimulate imminent demand [for assistive technology]”.

The report claims that smart homes fitted with assistive technology could save the NHS ‘billions’ and the cost savings for the health service could cover the installation costs of adaptions in smart homes.

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The smart home brings together housing, interactive technology, engineering, and healthcare to aid independent living for elderly or disabled people. The institute said a well-designed smart home must include technology that is adaptable, suitable for both young and older adults, easy to use and most of all cost effective.

But the UK is not doing enough to ensure new homes are suitable for elderly people or to encourage senior residents to adopt assistive technology. It drew on examples from other countries where assistive technology has been widely adopted.

“Japan has recognised both the desires of older people and the need to create appropriate technologies to manage those aspirations. Robotic exoskeleton suits to help with mobility and automated nursing care are just a few of the innovative solutions being developed.

“Fujitsu has recorded sales of over 20 million phones with larger buttons and simplified functions, and Toyota has been developing a range of options for its cars, including collision and parking sensors and rear cameras tailored to older drivers.”

The report noted that for 36% of people the cost of purchasing assistive technology was a barrier to adopting technologies in smart homes.

“The market therefore faces a chicken-and-egg situation,” it said. “Consumer driven demand will occur only if products are appealing. Suppliers will provide such products only if they see consumer uptake. If smart homes and their associated technologies are to make any impact among the over 65s, then older people must provide incentives to the private sector to bring these products to market, not just by purchasing, but through feedback and endorsement.”

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