Helping older people to access the Information Society
Europeans are living longer than ever thanks to economic growth and advances in health care. Average life expectancy is now over 80, and by 2020 around 25% of the population will be over 65. Fortunately, the Information Society offers older people the chance to live independently and continue to enjoy a high quality of life. Currently, however, a number of barriers prevent the older generation from fully embracing Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). In response, the European Commission is developing actions to improve ICT uptake amongst the elderly.
The Commission recognises the power of ICTs to support older people and the community around them. At work, new digital technologies can help people to remain active and productive as they age while improving work-life balance. This will become even more important in the future as Europeans retire later and the population ages.
ICTs can help older people overcome isolation and loneliness, increasing possibilities for keeping in contact with friends and also extending social networks. As eGovernment and eCommerce become more important, it is vital that everyone can use new technologies to access public and commercial services.
Products like smart homes technologies (to control heating, lighting, and even food stocks remotely), electronic alarm systems and tele-health facilities can also help older people live in their own homes, ensuring that they keep their independence for longer.
Breaking down barriers
Many older people face barriers in exploiting ICT products, services and applications to their full potential. Some are physical, which means that ICT manufacturers need to take older people’s needs into account. For example, 21% of over 50s have severe hearing, vision or dexterity problems, making it difficult or impossible to use standard ICT equipment. Moreover, only 10% of people over 65 in Europe use the internet.
Ageing is not always considered when designing mainstream products and there can be a distinct lack of industry awareness about older users’ capabilities. Even when assistive technologies are developed to help vulnerable groups, a lack of interoperability can hamper uptake.
More can be done to integrate older people into the Information Society. Improvements in policy and legislative conditions can help Europe’s ICT industry to cash in on the economic opportunities created by this growing market.
Europe’s over 65s are estimated to be worth over €300 billion and the smart homes market is expected to triple between 2005 and 2020. New markets such as tele-health could help older people to get out of hospital and back home more quickly, thereby improving the sense of well-being and reducing society’s health costs.
In its European i2010 initiative on e-inclusion, the Commission sets out a number of actions to improve eAccessibility for older people.
It calls for Member States and industry to help implement its new Ageing Well in the Information Society Action Plan, which was adopted in June 2007.
The Commission will also continue to fund research and development into ICT solutions for older people. For example, the Ageing Well action plan sets out the new €600 million AAL Programme to stimulate developments in ambient assisted living, which cover technologies designed to help older people to continue to live at home. Other Commission-backed research into old age and ICTs is supported by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research, where one focus is on fostering independent living and inclusion.
The ICT Policy Support Programme partially funds several pilot actions in support of the Action Plan on “Ageing Well in the Information Society”.
Future Commission activities will include preparing a new agenda to promote the development and deployment of ICTs for active ageing in the workplace.
Last update: 04/06/2012