Technology: Innovation and the Care of Older People


1st Gerontechnology Symposium: Developments in Technology and Ageing
67th Annual & Scientific Meeting: Innovation, Advances and Excellence in Ageing, 
Cork, 28 Sep. 2019

Developments in Technology and Ageing
President of IGS
Dr Diarmuid O’Shea

Gerontechnology, is a term that includes Assistive Technology (AT), Information Technology (IT) and Digital Technology (DT).   Digital health on the other hand, is about the patient voice and putting patients at the heart of health innovation.    These technologies are playing an increasingly important part in our day to day world and will be a growing support to people and patients in the communities in which we live and work in the decade to come.  All these technologies have vast potentials to engage, inform and empower us. 

There is also an evolving shortfall in health care workers.  It is predicted that by 2035 this shortfall will approach 10 million people.   Thus finding a way of seamlessly integrating technology services with health care professionals and people to improve patient care will be essential.  This challenges all of us - nurse, doctor, health care professional or manager – to reflect on the modes of traditional access to care and the evolving modes of virtual points of access to care.  Integrating technology services into our daily work practices and with health care professionals and people to improve patient care will be essential.  This is not about replacing health care professionals, far from it, it is about empowering health care professionals to do a better job for the patients we look after.  

In September 2019 we held our first “Gerontechology” symposium at the 67th Annual IGS meeting in Cork.

AT has the potential to help people to continue living independently in their communities.  DT is now a requirement for participation in most day to day activities.  These technological advances have the ability to ease, reassure, connect and support all of us, and may even prevent and reduce risk of accidents and harm.  However potential areas of concern remain for all of us.

The pace of research across the spectrum of “Assistive Technology” has and is increasing rapidly in recent years – from “monitoring” to “assisting care” and “smart homes”.  There are a range of different technologies that will suit different people.  It really is a case of “not one size will fit all”.  While AT can be used to connect, entertain and inform us, it is no substitute for personal, social contacts and connections.  We must embrace the future of technology and how it may support us all to live independently for longer in our communities and contribute to health care delivery and gains.  Digital literacy has also become a requirement for participation in most day to day activities.  The practicalities of day to day living should be easier for all of us to navigate.  To achieve this, we must ensure that our online, digital, and iCloud dominated tech-world is accessible to all, not just the young.  This is where technology can really add to the quality of life for older people and support us all to age well at home.  We must however be mindful of the fact that technologies should augment, and should not replace personal, social contact and connections in our lives.  As Shakespeare said “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come”.

This evolving concept of “Gerontechnology” and how it can assist and support us as we age has significant potential.  As we progress through the 21st century, and particularly through the next decade, there is little doubt that technology will play an increasingly important part in all our lives and across the generations.

In the report of the symposium that follows over the coming weeks, each of the contributors will give you their view and a synopsis of their talk.

You will read about how technology may enhance care and support for older people, how innovation and technology may assist in our community, the impact that care robots (carebots) are making in nursing homes in Japan, and importantly how technology will impact on the scope of privacy rights for all of us as we age.

We hope this will inform a discussion among you, our members.  With feedback, input and contributions from you we will then set up a small working group to work on a position paper.  Our IGS Spring Symposium - "Gerontechnology - the Future is now!", will be held on April 24th, 2020, from 10am to 4 pm, in the Education and Research Centre, St Vincent’s University Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin 4.  A programme outline will follow in January, but save the date!

Technology: Innovation and the Care of Older People

Colman Casey 1,2 Tanya Mulcahy 1,2 and Jane O’Flynn 1,3

1Health Innovation Hub Ireland, 2 University College Cork, 3 Cork Institute of Technology


The population of Ireland is ageing. While this is a welcome trend, it increases the burden on society in the care of older people. Assistive technologies, as well as, improved medical practices, healthcare efficiencies and social supports can help alleviate this burden. Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI) connects innovation with healthcare and from our experience technology alone is not the solution, it must be integrated with existing and potentially new support programmes and national health policy. HIHI has demonstrated many innovative products and services that can support older people to live healthily and independently for longer.


The impact of an ageing population needs to be considered from many facets including cost, infrastructure, policy, technology and the people who deliver it.  Innovative products and services can contribute to reducing healthcare costs, while supporting positive ageing. Ireland has an opportunity to consider how and where we want our ageing population to live and how innovation can best assist in managing their healthy ageing.  At HIHI we are seeing that individual innovations require close integration in both community and healthcare settings, and these innovations can have an impact from a cost, and health and wellbeing perspective.

As an example, there are many technologies to detect falls but effectiveness will depend on a coordinated quick response. Considering the cost of falls experienced by older people, it is estimated that 30% of those over the age of 65 will experience a fall (Towner and Errington, 2004). In Ireland, in 2018 the average cost of falls was €13,809 per person. Using 2016 population the estimated cost of falls is calculated at €2.6 billion and this is expected to increase to €6 billion by 2046 (O’Dwyer and Murphy, 2018). Technology can play a significant role in the detection (O’Flynn et al., 2019) and reduction of instances in falls, provided there is a coordinated and integrated support.

The full text of this paper is available to view or download on the link below.