Managing risk in the homes of the frail elderly
Risk, older people, domestic technologies
This page describes a framework for thinking about risk in the homes of the frail elderly. The framework is unusual in offering a systematic basis for selecting and evaluating technology for independent living that takes account of social and psychological concerns such as loneliness and dependency as well as the normal physical ones.
Older people living independently face many serious risks. For the very frail, even the simplest activity can be hazardous, and the risks of psychological and social harm such as loneliness and fear may be as important as those of physical harm (see "Socially Dependable Design").
Information and communication technology applications can help increase the independence and quality of life of older people, or people with disabilities who live in their own homes. A risk management framework is needed to assist in selecting applications that match the needs and wishes of particular individuals.
Table 1. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and events to
be used in risk analysis
Risk comprises two components: the likelihood of the occurrence of harm and the consequences of that harm. In the home, the social and psychological harms are as important as the physical ones. The importance of the harm (e.g., injury) is conditioned by its consequences (e.g., distress, costly medical treatment). We identify six generic types of harm (see Table 2) and four generic consequences (including distress and loss of confidence in ability to live independently). The resultant client-centred framework offers a systematic basis for selecting and evaluating technology for independent living.
Table 2. Generic types of harm (GTH) and the consequences that condition their seriousness.
Using the framework
The framework is designed to be used for assessing and managing
risk for a specific individual in a specific context, that is, where they
are living and the way that they live. The steps to be taken are:
Blythe, M., Monk, A.F. and Doughty, K. (in press) Socially Dependable Design: The Challenge of Ageing Populations for HCI, Interacting with Computers, accepted subject to revision.
Monk, A.F., Hone, K., Lines, L., Dowdall, A., Baxter, G., Blythe, M.B. and Wright, P. (in press) Towards a practical framework for managing the risks of selecting technology to support independent living, J. of Applied Ergonomics, accepted subject to revision.
Swain, A.D. & Guttman, H.E. (1983). Handbook of human reliability analysis with emphasis on nuclear power plant applications (NUREG CR-1278). Washington, DC: Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Gordon Baxter, G dot Baxter at psych dot york dot ac dot uk
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