18 Sep 2009

OU awarded funding for research into older people and technology

Over the last 20 years, the internet and mobile phones have become central to how we communicate and share information. The Open University is part of a European team that has been awarded funding to study how older people deal with new innovations and existing technology in their everyday lives, and how this could be improved.

Funding for the Older People and Technological Innovations (‘OPT-in’) project has been awarded by the Grundtvig Programme which is part of the European Commission's Lifelong Learning Programme and funds opportunities in adult education. Each European partner will undertake local work to explore how older people’s engagement with, and learning about, new technologies could be enhanced. In addition, exchange visits will take place between partner countries to enable older people and project workers to share their experiences and examples of good practice.

Dr Josie Tetley, Senior Lecturer in Nursing, led the funding application from the OU and says, “Having worked for six months to develop the project and European network, we were delighted when we received notification that our bid had been successful.” She continues, “The funding will enable us to work with older people to explore how new technologies can be used and developed to enhance the quality of their everyday lives. This is important work as traditional initiatives aimed at helping older people to understand and use new technologies usually occur after the product has been designed and the area of application already determined.”

Dr Tetley explains what impact the initiative may have, “By undertaking this work we aim to enhance older people's confidence and opportunities to use new technologies that younger people often take for granted. Working with partners across Europe is particularly important as this will enable us to share and test new and prototype equipment across a range of settings before making decisions about investments of effort, time and money.”

The Open University will work closely with Age Concern Milton Keynes to maximise engagement with older people. Jane Palmer, chief executive at Age Concern Milton Keynes, says, “This is an exciting and unique opportunity to work in partnership with older people across Europe. We will be able to truly engage in educating one another on how to enhance and advance existing and emerging technologies to become practical and socially inclusive day-to-day tools for all ages.”

The OU’s team includes Dr Josie Tetley (Senior Lecturer, Nursing), Dr Caroline Holland (Research Associate, Health and Social Care), Dr Jonathan Hughes (Lecturer, Centre for Widening Participation), Dr Verina Waights (Lecturer in Professional Health Care Education), Dr Simon Holland (Senior Lecturer, Computing).

Universities taking part in the two-year project include The University of Maribor, The University of Stirling, Institute of Gerontology at the Technical University of Dortmund, and the Verwey-Jonker Institute in the Netherlands.

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