Elderly people exercising via internet video

Participating in activities such as online games, virtual social gatherings and using assistive technologies allows us to stay connected to our communities and create meaningful experiences which positively impact our health and wellbeing. But how can we ensure these activities are accessible to older people?

Age, economic disadvantage and functional limitations have been identified as key barriers to accessing technologies. Further understanding is needed to address ‘digital divides’ – that is inequalities in access to digital connectivity.

In addition, implications of the COVID-19 pandemic mean that the role of technology is now pivotal in the ability to deliver programmes for older people in a socially distanced world. It will also ensure greater resilience in the face of future pandemics and more extreme social isolation.

The GOALD project uses intergenerational groups to examine how to design and deliver digital resources to provide and engage older people in structured activity programmes with the aim of improving their health and wellbeing.

Supporting healthy ageing

Technology can offer solutions to maintain health and improve our quality of life. From online gaming to virtual meetings, there are quick and easy ways for people to meaningfully connect online. 
Problems arise when subsets of society are unable to access these spaces due to poor connectivity in an area, lack of technological know-how or the absence of the technology itself due to economic disadvantage (e.g. no smart phone or computer). Older people, especially those living in remote parts of the UK such as Stirling and the South West, are more at risk of digital exclusion due to these factors. At the same time, the benefits to them of engaging in the technology and finding online spaces to connect with people are arguably greater. Therefore, the question becomes, how can we ensure these activities are accessible to older people?

Bridging the digital divide

The GOALD (Generating Older Active Lives Digitally) project will examine how to design and deliver digital resources to provide and engage older people in structured activity programmes and improve health and wellbeing.
Led by the University of Stirling’s Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy with support from the Centre of Health Technology at the University of Plymouth, we have partnered with seven community groups based locally (Active Stirling, Sports Heritage Scotland, iSight Cornwall, Hearing Loss Cornwall, Devon and Cornwall South Asian Society, Nudge and Cornwall Rural Community Charity) and three nationally (Generations Working Together, ukactive and Sporting Heritage), as well as 12 care homes, to create intergenerational co-production groups made up of older and younger participants. Over the course of the project, the multidisciplinary research team will work with the different groups to explore use and design of digital resources and assistive technologies. The project will include:
  • user testing technologies – participants will feedback on their experiences of using VR equipment, gaming and fitness wearables
  • social VR walking – care home residents virtually walking with younger participants
  • VR environments – creating location-based experiences
  • sports and activity focused reminiscence.
Elderly man using VR headset - getty
Elderly woman wearing smartwatch

EPIC foundations

Working with the EPIC project (eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly), led by the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology, GOALD continues the University’s work to support businesses in developing technology to address the challenges faced by communities and providers in coastal and rural settings.

Initially funded in 2017 by a grant of £2.7 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the South West Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), EPIC was awarded a further £4m in 2020 to extend the project until 2023.

EPIC centralises the valuable input from a variety of stakeholders across the eHealth ecosystem in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to strengthen the innovation network and help to bolster sustainability, as well as providing sector-specific hands-on business support for local businesses to develop new eHealth products and services that will not only create new jobs and support the local economy, but create truly useful innovations which could improve quality of life and boost wellbeing for many.

The future of digital design

GOALD provides the opportunity for intergenerational participants to provide feedback on technologies helping to shape aspects of future digital design. By partnering with charity and community groups the project seeks to record the experiences of a diverse range of people. These findings will be shared with South West based business partners – small to medium-sized enterprises – to develop new technologies, product ideas and test design concepts.

The programme aims to contribute to the challenge mission of ensuring people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent, years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the richest and poorest by enhancing our understanding of the aspirations, preferences and needs of the ageing population.

Using virtual reality scans to bring heritage sites alive

This video gives a brief explanation of how GOALD is working with the University of Plymouth School of Art, Design and Architecture to create virtual reality spaces for our participants to explore.

GOALD, 'Connectivity and Digital Design for Promoting Health and Well-being Across Generations, Places and Spaces’ will begin in March 2021 and run for three years. 

Plymouth researchers

Centre for Health Technology

Bringing together digital health and health technology expertise from across the University of Plymouth to drive the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative technologies, products, services and approaches to transform health and social care.

Find out more about the Centre for Health Technology

Online tele medicine isometric concept. Medical consultation and treatment via application of smartphone connected internet clinic.