The elderly to help researchers tackle ‘Big Brother’ fears

Friday 28 January 2011

Researchers at the University of St Andrews are leading a project aiming to alleviate ‘Big Brother’ like fears experienced by older people when faced with new technology.

In a new two-year project, the psychologists, working with partners Age UK and researchers at the Universities of Sheffield and Reading, aim to investigate the gap between advancements in technology and uptake amongst the older generation.

Lead researcher, Dr Arlene Astell, explained, “Technology has the potential to support people to live well and age well, but at the moment there is a gap between developments in technology and the number of people using it in their everyday lives.

“This may be because people do not value or desire the technology, or are unsure about its use. For example, whilst older people are enthusiastic about simple, easy-to-use technology, such as digital cameras and mobile phones, they are wary of ‘Big Brother’ type monitoring, especially in their own homes.”

The researchers will investigate the use of ‘assisted living technologies’ (ALTs) such as remote blood pressure monitoring, medication dispensing and fall alarms.

Innovatively, they will work directly with older people as the experts about what they want and like rather than just asking them to participate in studies. Working alongside front line staff, the study will also address the concerns of care professionals, who worry about being deskilled or replaced by technology.

It is hoped that the study will help all parties better understand the barriers involved and work out the most effective methods of overcoming them. The project will build on Dr Astell’s previous experience in working with older adults to develop new technology.

She continued, “With an ageing population it is vital that such barriers to the adoption of assisted living technology are overcome if people are to benefit from current and emerging innovations.”

The new study is one of eight funded by a share of £9m announced by the Government-backed Technology Strategy Board, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Health’s National Institute for Health Research.

Iain Gray, the Technology Strategy Board’s Chief Executive, said, “New technologies can play a vital role in enhancing the health and well-being of older people and those with long-term conditions.  However, while assisted living technologies are becoming increasingly available and affordable their adoption is far from extensive.

“Understanding the market for such products is a vital step towards meeting the needs of users and service providers. This research will help to show the potential impact of such technology and demonstrate its social and economic value.”


Note to Editors

Dr Arlene Astell is available for interview on 07941418448 or 01334 462056; email [email protected]

The Technology Strategy Board is a business-led government body which works to create economic growth by ensuring that the UK is a global leader in innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit:

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected]

Ref:  ALT 280111

View the latest University press releases at

Category Research

Related topics

Share this story