Demographic changes mean that people are now living longer, but increasing life expectancy also raises the potential for increased dependency in the later years of life. The ability of older people to remain in their own homes and lead a life commensurate with their capacity and potential as they become more dependent is a function of the complex interrelationship of many factors. These factors include: the extent of disability and functional impairment, the support of family carers, the availability of community-based services and the accessibility of these services to people who need them. The application of existing and new technologies to some of these areas has the potential to enhance the independence, and ultimately the well-being, of older individuals and increase their probability for remaining in their own homes within the community.

By observing people ‘in their natural habitat’, the use of ethnography in technology research helps to identify what they find easy, what they find difficult, what would assist them day to day and how their needs can be supported by judicious interventions and devices. Ethnography uses anthropological and observational techniques to answer questions such as ‘what do people really want’, and ‘would a particular product find mass acceptance’. But it also reflects a philosophical foundation, particularly in respect of the TRIL Centre research programme, that research must have real-world impact, must change people’s lives and must have value and application beyond the laboratory.

The work of the ethnographic team based at NUI Galway will inform the design, implementation and usability of new technologies developed for older people. Ethnographic information provides guidance and feedback to the engineers and scientists who design and produce the new technologies and to the older people who use the new technologies. The Irish Centre of Social Gerontology (ICSG) will unite the various engineering and design strands of the TRIL Centre through enhanced multidisciplinary information systems that link design to application, with a personalised focus on the experiences of older people in their own space and place.


Professor Eamon O’Shea, Principal Investigator, Ethnography

Professor O’Shea is a graduate of University College Dublin, University of York and the University of Leicester. He is Director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He has had 34 papers published in refereed journals over the period 1990 to 2006 inclusive, including publications in top-ranked journals such as the Journal of Health Economics, Social Science and Medicine, Applied Economics, European Journal of Public Health, Age and Ageing, Ageing and Society, Health Policy, Economic and Social Review, International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics. He has authored 11 books and monographs mainly in the field of ageing and social policy. His most recent book is titled: Policy and Practice for Dementia Care in Ireland. He has also contributed 17 chapters to various books, mainly on ageing and inequality issues. His current research projects include: end-of-life care for older people; rural ageing, technology and ageing; and quality of life.

Professor Ciaran O’Neill, Principal Investigator, Ethnography

Ciaran O’Neill is Professor of Health Technology Assessment at NUI Galway and a Principal Investigator in the Ethnography strand of the TRIL Centre. He has researched across a range of subjects including service utilisation, health technology assessment and cost of illness. He has held lectureships at the Department of Economics Queens University Belfast, the School of Economics and the School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, as well as Chairs in Health Economics and Policy at the University of Ulster and at Oral Health Research, Queens University Belfast.

He has held visiting positions at the University of Michigan’s Institute of Gerontology, the RAND Corporation and the University of Nottingham. He has published widely in leading international journals on health economics and policy. He was a founding member and Chairman of the Health Economics Association of Ireland and until 2008 Chairman of the Northern Ireland Health Economics Group. He has acted in an advisory capacity to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s health committee and is part of HIQA’s scientific advisory group on HTA.

Simon Roberts, Co-Principal Investigator (Intel), Ethnography

Intel Digital Health Group

Simon Roberts, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh and experienced applied anthropologist, manages the EMEA ethnographic team of Health Research and Innovation, Digital Health Group. Simon’s role is to build a team of world class social science researchers whose work can shape innovative technology platforms that extend the possibilities for successful ageing-in-place.

Simon is co-PI on the Global Experiences of Ageing project. This is a major study examining older people, their ideas about health and ageing and healthcare systems worldwide. During 2006, this project focused on Europe. In 2007, the research team’s focus will shift to Asia. He is also the Intel lead on the social science aspects of the TRIL Centre research agenda. Simon has published widely on consumer and domestic technology and the use of anthropology in business. He is a member of the Association of Social Anthropologists and a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute and a Member of the Intellect Digital Convergence Council. He has been active in establishing a dialogue between anthropologists practising in the public and private sectors, and their academic counterparts.

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