Lessons Learnt from the Socio-Technical Design of Social TV Services with Elderly

Lessons Learnt from the Socio-Technical Design of Social TV Services with Elderly

Malek Alaoui, Myriam Lewkowicz
DOI: 10.4018/ijskd.2014040101
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Encouraging elderly people to stay at home as long as possible is associated with a higher risk of social isolation. Nowadays, aging well at home cannot be reduced to the management of physical and cognitive frailties and technologies should also tackle the quality of life of the elderly by fostering their social interactions. However, designing appropriate services and ensuring their adoption remain open questions, to which we try to provide answers at the methodological and instrumental levels. The authors present here a Living Lab approach to design communication services for elderly people at home. They illustrate this approach by describing their participation in a European project aiming at developing and evaluating Social TV services and they conclude with recommendations for the successful socio-technical design of services that foster the social engagement of elderly people.
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1. Introduction

In the western world and Japan, the proportion of people aged sixty and over is high. This is especially the case in Europe, and to give one example, in France, where they represent 22.6% of the total population, and 90% of them want to grow old and die at home (Rivière & Brugière, 2010). But several factors can reduce their autonomy and could make aging in the community and remaining at home in later life problematic. These factors can be either physical, cognitive or social (Langlois et al., 2012). They can be related to the ageing process (reduced vision, hearing, dexterity, loss of balance), to a disease (Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, arthritis, deafness) or to social isolation (loneliness, depression, withdrawal into oneself).

Many research programs address the physical frailty of the elderly, generally using sensors for providing continuous monitoring of their health status and reporting any discrepancies to a remote caregiver or a health professional. However, ageing well must not be reduced to physical health and monitoring cannot be considered as a complete solution, as it does not support the psychological problems related to isolation or loneliness. In fact, extensive research has established the strong relationship between social isolation and health (House et al., 1988). The decrease of social bonds of the elderly are a factor of loneliness, depression, and withdrawal into oneself, which can negatively affect their health (Thoits & Hewitt, 2001). Medical studies have even shown that social isolation increases the risk of mortality among the elderly (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2010). Other studies have also shown that the social engagement of elderly people can play a positive role in their psychological well-being. Social engagement is the act of creating or maintaining social and emotional bonds with individuals and society, including participation in group-activities (Park, 2009). Among the benefits of social engagement we can quote: reduction of mortality (Minkler & Fadem, 2002), slowing-down physical decline (de Leon, 2003), better quality of life and happiness (Thompson & Heller, 1990), protection against depression (Cacioppo et al., 2006) and decreasing the risk of cognitive impairment (Krueger et al., 2009).

In this context, our research-action goal is to focus on the role that technologies could play to support existing social ties or to create new ones for the psychological wellness and better self-esteem of elderly people. But whilst elderly people living alone can obviously see the benefits of monitoring devices based on sensors to prevent falls or blood-pressure measurement devices, the utility of communication services may need some further explanation as they are not supported at first place by the doctors or the nurses. We believe that this is due to the fact that the benefits of using communication services, even if they are reported in the literature (see above) are not made clear to the elderly, and there is little encouragement to voluntarily adopt the dedicated products and services. The elderly people have then the tendency of avoiding communication services or simply just give up using them, especially if they do not have any technical support from their relatives. Ackerman (2000) calls this “divide between what we know we must support socially and what we can support technically” the socio-technical gap. In our research, we are aiming at defining an approach that sufficiently takes into account the daily practices and subtle aspects of the elderly person’s home into the design process to fill this socio-technical gap as much as possible.

Investigating how ICTs could promote social engagement of elderly people staying at home raises many questions: first, what technology could be a good alternative to the reluctance of elderly people to use computers? Secondly, how to design services dedicated to the elderly that are useful, usable and accepted by them and their community? Finally, a more long-term issue is related to the impact of communication services on the well-being of the elderly at home and their role in the potential development of online peer communities.

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