Home Engineering The dark side of technology
Will designers adjust their electronics for the elderly?
The realities of ageing mean items that are totally compatible for young people (the age group of the designers) may be inferior or inadequate for the elderly. This needs realization and a change in concept and motivation from the designers. It has not yet happened, but I am hopeful, not for altruistic reasons, but because of the vast numbers of older people in the advanced nations of the world, and the strength of the ‘grey’ pound, dollar, and euro. There is a large, rich market that is not being properly addressed.
Advanced medical centres
Technological progress is not just in electronics; unfortunately, its tendency to isolate vulnerable groups of society is equally apparent in other areas. I will take just one more example that particularly relates to the poor or elderly. Medicine is a major consumer of resources, and there is a trend to place expertise and expensive equipment in a limited number of sites. The logic and economics of doing this are quite obvious, as efficiency of using skilled people is improved. However, the implication is that the patients will be sufficiently fit and mobile to travel to these centres of ‘local’ excellence. Almost by definition, their patients are the people who cannot manage this. So the overall effect is that the technological advances have isolated those in need from the very sources of medical care that they require.
Whilst discussing such problems with a local care organization for the elderly, I was told that they are overwhelmed by such difficulties.
The local hospital, which is just a few miles away, has now moved many specialist units to a dedicated centre some 25 miles from the town. It is no longer directly accessible by public transport (even assuming the patients are fit enough to use it). For the new location, the triple bus journey takes more than two hours each way. Further, the centre makes appointments primarily in the morning from 8 a.m. onwards, which by public transport is an impossible journey, as the two regions are only linked by buses with poorly interlaced timetables. Therefore, the health group must fund taxis or private car drivers to transport the patients each way. The care group said this is beyond their budget, or that of most of the patients. The overall consequence is that a large percentage of the people are unable to attend treatment.
This is a pattern that is played out over the country for many elderly or poorer members of the community, or those who do not live in major cities. The failing is exacerbated by a blinkered view of the hospital organizers who tend to be younger, more affluent, with cars, or living within the major cities where public transport for the mobile is available.
It is also a problem that is increasing. In other examples that I have heard of locally, the overcrowded health services have been redirecting patients to centres of excellence that are some 90 miles and three hours distant. For the pensioners involved, the travel costs and difficulties of making such journeys have meant that many cannot attend for treatment.
Can we improve?
I have focussed on examples where, at each stage in life, technological progress has had negative side effects for different age groups. In all cases, the poor, weak, and elderly are penalized more than the rest. Whilst it is certainly happening—and indeed this has always been the pattern throughout human civilization—it is not yet clear if it is much worse than in the past. Speed of change has increased; so has awareness of the difficulties. Therefore, despite the apparent current difficulties in the reality of life, and the divides between rich and poor, healthy and ill, young and elderly, I am optimistic that we will continue to try to redress the problems. My confidence is that, in part, there is an untapped market for goods designed for the elderly.
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