Elderly person in wheelchair exercising using a virtual reality (VR) headset
The GOALD toolkit giving design considerations for the development of digital health technologies to support physical and mental activity for older adults is available now. The toolkit was developed from ESRC funded research conducted as part of the Generating Older Active Lives Digitally (GOALD) project at the University of Plymouth and University of Stirling. Find out more details of the project as a whole.

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 is examining how to design and deliver digital resources to provide and engage older people in structured activity programmes and improve health and wellbeing. One of the outputs of GOALD is a toolkit for SMEs to aid design.
Led by the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Social Sciences’ with support from the Centre for 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. The multidisciplinary research team has been working with the different groups to explore use and design of digital resources and assistive technologies. The project has included:
  • user testing technologies – participants giving 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.

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.
Funded with grants of over £6M between 2017 and 2023 from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the South West Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), EPIC created a network of eHealth stakeholders across Cornwall and provided sector-specific hands-on business support for local businesses to develop new eHealth products and services. It helped create new jobs, products and services and provided a foundation for the subsequent GOALD and ICONIC projects.

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 UK 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.
GOALD, 'Connectivity and Digital Design for Promoting Health and Well-being Across Generations, Places and Spaces’ began in March 2021 and ran to the end of February 2024. 

Hear from those involved

The GOALD Toolkit: Impacting design through research

Research from the GOALD project led to the creation of our toolkit for developers of digital health technologies that promote healthy ageing. Find out how we created this useful resource and hear about its impact from developers who have tried and tested it.

The GOALD project: Involving users in the design process

Filmed at a Plymouth stakeholder event, this video gives an overview of the GOALD project and how we are working with intergenerational groups to co-design digital technologies that aim to improve health and wellbeing for older people.

Digital Technologies for Older Active Lives

Watch some of the technologies the GOALD project has helped to co-design being used to promote physical activity for older people.

Using digital tools for sports reminiscence in the community

Watch some of the technologies the GOALD project has helped to co-design being used for sports reminiscence and social interaction in the community. 

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.
Shot of happy senior women using virtual reality headsets together at a retirement home

GOALD project talks

The GOALD project talks are one of the ways we hope to stimulate discussions around technological innovation in the care of older people. Several of our partners have put on webinars which explored the use of digital resources, assistive technologies and reminiscence.
Elderly person in wheelchair exercising using a virtual reality (VR) headset

“At 92, I 'kayaked' across the Antarctic – for a virtual-reality research project”

Fred Horley is taking part in research run by the universities of Stirling and Plymouth to create digital products that help older people stay active and healthier for longer. 
Elderly woman using VR headset

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

Plymouth Pioneer: Professor Ray Jones

Ray Jones MBE, Professor of Health Informatics and Co-Director of the Centre for Health Technology, is one of the UK’s leading researchers in empowering more people to use digital health technology. 
His 40-year career has produced over 300 papers on how technology can be harnessed to benefit patients, particularly in rural and ageing communities.
Ray Jones Plymouth Pioneers