Gerontechnology – New Frontiers in Design for Active Ageing

Dr Alexander Peine, is a leading Gerontechnologist and Professor of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at Utrecht University, who has written an EU whitepaper on Age Friendly Housing.

He and CSL’s Ian Spero are working together on a series of events, which aim to define an open ended formula for re-imagining the lives of older adults as active co-creators of their own digital environments. You can learn more about this concept of ‘Agile Ageing™’ in Ian’s recent blog for the Huffington Post.

Over to Dr Peine…


Demographic ageing is widely seen as a major challenge that drives the future of European economies. In Western Europe, the population aged 65 or higher will increase from 18.5% in 2010 to 27.3% in 2035, and the population aged 80 or higher will increase from 5.1% to 8.6% in the same period [1]. A common reasoning among policy makers, companies, researchers and lobby groups suggests that this demographic disruption will lead to a crisis for healthcare systems, for pension schemes, for the innovative capacity of economies, and for the social relations between different age groups. Science, technology and innovation are perceived to provide the means to solve this “grand societal challenge” of demographic ageing. In the EU, for instance, the Ambient Assisted Living Joint Program has funded research and development into ICT-based solutions to support active and healthy aging with 700 million euro between 2008 and 2013; under its new name Active Assisted Living the program will spend another 700 million euro until 2020 [2].

At the same time, the nature of later life and its relation with science and technology is changing. Current generations of older people have experienced different waves of household innovation during their life course; and the baby boomer generation, the first cohort that has been exposed to modern digital technology, at least in the later phases of their lives, is now moving into retirement.

The baby boomers are also the first cohort that has been thoroughly enculturated into consumer lifestyles, which implies that many of them continue to express their life styles and develop identity through the use and consumption of technology well into old age (Joyce and Mamo, 2006; Jones et al., 2008; Higgs et al., 2009; Gilleard and Higgs, 2011). In other words, older people are used to use technology as part of everyday culture. Even the oldest old of today “can be and are technogenarians in their active use of everyday technologies to create meaningful lives and maintain health” (Loe, 2010, p. 320).

The field of scientific inquiry that explores the future of technological innovation, silver markets and consumption in ageing societies is Gerontechnology. In this domain, social scientists, gerontologists, designers and engineers have joined forces globally to explore how new digital innovations can serve the needs of an ageing population. The most exciting recent developments have focused on re-imagining older people as skilled and pro-active users of technology – by highlighting how we use technology in creative and often unforeseen ways well into old age, or by showing how older people serve as early adopters of innovation paving the way for mass markets (as in the case of eBikes).
These new perspectives have contributed a great deal to freeing Europe’s ageing populations from ageist stereotypes of technological ineptness and vulnerability. They have also opened new and existing avenues, currently being explored, where designers, social scientists and users together create technological environments – including social robotics, health monitoring, augmented realities, sensors, wearables, serious gaming, big data, and other Internet of Things devices that will enable us to navigate our ‘golden years’ on our own terms, seizing new opportunities for learning, social engagement and even discovery.

A pertinent element on this gerontechnological agenda are new design tools that translate insights about changing patterns of later life into innovations that allow for meaningful, healthy and creative lives, supported and enabled by technology. These themes are explored in a recent special issue in the scientific journal Technological Forecasting & Social Change. 13 case studies provide in-depth analyses of the many creative encounters of older people with technology; and how traditional design approaches that associate later life with technological ineptness and impairment often fail to invite such creative encounters.

[1]Source: UN World Population Prospects (2012 Revisions): http://esa.un.org/wpp/
[2]See http://ec.europa.eu/digital-ag... and http://www.aal-europe.eu/about...


Alexander Peine is Professor of Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at Utrecht University. He also serves as a board member of the International Society for Gerontechnology (ISG), convenes a pan-European commitment on “Active Ageing and the Built Environment” in the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP-AHA) and leads a focus area on the same topic for the European Construction Technology Platform (ECTP). For further discussion, feel free to contact Alexander at a.peine@uu.nl or follow him on twitter @AlexanderPeine.

Further Reading:
Peine, A., Faulkner, A., Jæger, B., Moors, E., 2015. Science, technology and the ‘grand challenge’ of ageing—Understanding the socio-material constitution of later life. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 93, 1-9.
Peine, A., Rollwagen, I., Neven, L., 2014. The rise of the “innosumer” – Rethinking older technology users. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 82, 199-214.
Sixsmith, A., Gutman, G. (Eds), 2013. Technologies for Active Aging. Springer, New York.
Loe, M., 2011. Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond. Oxford University Press, New York.
Neven, L., 2010. ‘But obviously not for me’: robots, laboratories and the defiant identity of elder test user. Sociology of Health and Illness 32, 335-347.