Keeping it simple: Attitudes of older people to new technologies to support mobility in later life

by Dr. Charles Musselwhite, Associate Professor in Gerontology at the Centre for Innovative Ageing (CIA) at Swansea University.

In Western societies, people are living longer than ever before and are also more mobile than ever, but transport can still be an issue in later life due to physiological and cognitive challenges. I had run 4 focus groups with a total of 36 people, looking at older people’s attitudes to how technology and innovations might overcome mobility challenges faced in later life. The findings from this were ideal for a chapter entitled:

Older People’s Mobility, New Transport Technologies and User-Centred Innovation in the book, Towards user-centric transport in Europe — Challenges, solutions and collaborations

edited by Beate Müller and Gereon Meyer, that I was asked to contribute towards which looks more generally at user-centric innovation within the transport system.

I was struck by how older people wanted to keep things relatively low-tech and simple and that for older people who might find everyday mobility difficult, replacing literal mobility like for like wasn’t always needed. Older people were already doing stuff that replaced the need to be quite so mobile, for example e-shopping and getting things delivered and they were also using Skype and FaceTime to stay connected to family who live a long way away. One person was enjoying viewing places of significance to him on webcams:

“It’s great to see the places I grew up in on those webcams. Some haven’t changed much at all. I love using them! I don’t suppose I shall go back there but I can still see it” (male, aged 80)

Transport innovation stemming from the individuals themselves is relatively low-tech and is often in the form of social capital, supporting others in their mobility needs in their practical, emotional and pleasurable mobility experiences. This included doing e-shopping for taking in the parcels for the street, coordinate others’ lifts or being a volunteer driver.

“I’m driving people in the local community around, people I know, but I know sometimes, because when I get there they say, that I could’ve taken a few others who’ve got a taxi there themselves. So something that joins us all up. Something like Uber for oldies? Grey Uber would be the way forwards?” (male, aged 76, car driver).

Older people welcome more information on public transport but it shouldn’t replace members of staff

There was mixed feelings with regards to other transport innovations in the pipeline. Generally, there was support for technology that improved real time information for buses or trains, as long as it wasn’t at the expense of a reduction in frontline staff. There was a general dislike for innovations that would result in more shared mobility. Older people liked the idea of better integration of services, especially if this can be guaranteed. People could see the potential for mobility as a service to be useful in helping with this.

It has to be noted though that despite using future scenario work in the focus groups, people’s visioning of the future of transport is still very much as if its business as usual. It was hard for people to step out of what they currently know. Hence much of the discussion was how technology supports current transport and mobility, not how it can change it.


These issues are covered by the publication recently published by Springer on the Towards User-Centric Transport in Europe, Challenges, Solutions and Collaborations and will be discussed at the final event of the Mobility4EU project:

‘TUCTE 18 — Enabling seamless and sustainable mobility for all”


Reference: Musselwhite, C.B.A. (2019). Older people’s mobility, new transport technologies and user-centred innovation. In B. Müller and G. Meyer (eds.) Towards user-centric transport in Europe — Challenges, solutions and collaborations. Lecture Notes Series, Switzerland: Springer. Pp 87–103.

A longer blog is available at https://transportmobilityandageing.wordpress.com/2018/10/15/technological-innovations-and-new-mobility-attitudes-and-values-of-older-people/