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Does assistive technology contribute to safety among home-dwelling older adults?

BACKGROUND: Assistive technology carries the promise of alleviating public expenditure on long-term care, while at the same time enabling older adults to live more safely at home for as long as possible. Home-dwelling older people receiving reablement and dementia care at their homes are two important target groups for assistive technology. However, the need for help, the type of help and the progression of their needs differ. These two groups are seldom compared even though they are two large groups of service users in Norway and their care needs constitute considerable costs to Norwegian municipalities. The study explores how assistive technology impacts the feeling of safety among these two groups and their family caregivers.

METHODS: Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews lasting between 17 and 61 min were conducted between November 2018 and August 2019 with home-dwelling older adults receiving reablement (N = 15) and dementia care (N = 10) and the family caregivers (N = 9) of these users in seven municipalities in Norway. All interviews were audio-recorded, fully transcribed, thematically coded and inductively analyzed following Clarke and Braun's principles for thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Service users in both groups felt safe when knowing how to use assistive technology. However, the knowledge of how to use assistive technology was not enough to create a feeling of safety. In fact, for some users, this knowledge was a source of anxiety or frustration, especially when the user had experienced the limitations of the technology. For the service users with dementia, assistive technology was experienced as disturbing when they were unable to understand how to handle it, but at the same time, it also enabled some of them to continue living at home. For reablement users, overreliance on technology could undermine the progress of their functional improvement and thus their independence.

CONCLUSION: For users in both service groups, assistive technology may promote a sense of safety but has also disadvantages. However, technology alone does not seem to create a sense of safety. Rather, it is the appropriate use of assistive technology within the context of interactions between service users, their family caregivers and the healthcare staff that contributes to the feeling of safety.

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