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UCL Public Engagement Blog



How can technologies help us live happy, healthy lives as we age?

By Rory, on 16 December 2020

Georgie from the UCL Institute of Health Engineering shares with us her co-production journey to date, listening and learning. Find out how you can take part in shaping our future and finding the right technology to make ageing healthier and happier for all of us.

five older adults sitting next to one another try out some new technology on the tablets and phones

Using digital devices has never been more crucial for staying in touch. But how do we avoid excluding those without internet or computer access? Or simply those who just aren’t as comfortable with technology? The Age Innovation Hub is working to find the answers.

Thanks to advances in healthcare and living standards, people in the UK (and many other parts of the world) are living longer than ever before. Half the babies born in the UK today are expected to reach their 100th birthday!

This is exciting progress, but it comes with its own challenges. Too often, people ageing are faced with problems like loneliness, loss of independence and avoidable years of disease. The effects of the pandemic this year have also hit older people particularly hard and reinforced how important staying healthy is to keep us all strong.

Where I work, at UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, we’ve made tackling this one of our priorities. I work alongside scientists and engineers who are committed to making technologies that can help solve some of these problems. They’re brilliant and they’re bright, but they certainly can’t do this alone.

We Need Your Help

Crucially, we need to hear from and involve as many voices as possible in order to understand what is really needed and what could be most useful. At the Institute, we talk a lot about ‘democratising’ the idea of who an expert is (which Nicc from Co-Production Collective talks about in her blog for us). Too often, the word becomes a battleground for misconceptions around whose voice is most valuable and who gets a seat at the table. Sometimes this causes a backlash in which the idea of an expert is not trusted at all.

What we believe is that we can all offer an expert opinion and we all have experiences that can give great insight into these issues – we are all ageing after all!

An individual wanting to stay healthy and socially connected despite shielding indoors at the moment may offer a different perspective to a mother/father juggling caring responsibilities for their older parent, which may again be a different perspective to an occupational therapist who has thought of a technology that could make their day at work easier – but these views are all valuable.

To hear as many of these as possible, we’ve launched an initiative called the UCL Age Innovation Hub. The Hub uses a digital platform to crowdsource ideas and problems from the public around healthy ageing. In doing so, we hope to harness the power of crowds and the diversity of perspectives to find what really matters. The below video tells you a little more.

But it doesn’t end with just ideas

We’ll then work alongside these groups to evaluate what’s most needed and develop technologies that can tackle some of these issues. We want to use the platform as a base to create partnerships that are longer-lasting.

All the research we fund and develop that stems from the Hub will remain committed to a co-production approach.

Why Is This So Important To Us?

Fundamentally we believe it creates better research. The technologies created will be based on real, identified needs and the fresh perspectives provided will make sure we stay focused on what the people who will be using it really want.

Being part of a public institution, I also feel we have a duty to play in combatting some of the misperceptions around who an ‘expert’ is that I mentioned earlier. Particularly as parts of the higher education system may have historically reinforced rather than helped dismantle similar prejudices.

Our co-production journey so far with the Age Innovation Hub has not been without its challenges. With the pandemic still ongoing, our initiative is ‘virtual’ only for now and we’re grappling with certain questions. How do we avoid excluding those without internet or computer access? Or simply those who just aren’t as comfortable with technology? How do we interpret conversations without some of the human and visual clues that come from face-to-face interaction? How wide is our net reaching?

We’re motivated by some of the powerful examples of successful co-production that we’ve seen, many from within the Co-Production Collective itself. We’re talking, we’re listening and we’re learning.

Most importantly, we see this as the first few steps in our Institute’s co-production travels. We’d love to see some of you join us on our way.

Get Involved

I’m always here to talk at Georgie Cade, g.cade@ucl.ac.uk or ageinnovation@ucl.ac.uk.

I’d also encourage you to get directly stuck into the conversation at Age Innovation Hub on Crowdicity (if you’re unsure where to start, there are some tips and guidance in this section).

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