A person’s access to assistive products such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, and glasses, is an essential part of their ability to age in a healthy way. But, according to the World Health Organization, a staggering 90% of people who need assistive products worldwide, do not have access to them. In many instances access is limited or simply non-existent. This is often due to assistive products being too expensive, demand outweighing supply, not always being suitable to use in different environments, or even the lack of availability of trained providers. In such circumstances, people are more likely to age ‘unhealthily’ if they do not have access to assistive products that are designed to support their day to day functioning and independence.

In a new study headed by Jamie Danemayer from University College London, an international review of all existing datasets on assisted products as been conducted. They reviewed questionnaires used in hundreds of national surveys and dozens of large cohort studies globally, and were able to pinpoint which countries have multiple years of data on access to assistive products, and which types of assistive products and populations are most often included or left out. The research team has not only identified the countries and populations for which there was previously very little understanding when it comes to their assistive product needs, but have also highlighted how these datasets often excluded people with disabilities which can pose a serious problem for research into ageing. This review identifies opportunities to improve data collection and make future aging research, and healthy longevity, more inclusive.

Jamie added, “If inequities in accessing assistive products are not addressed, then inequities in healthy aging will continue and progressively get worse as the global elderly population increases. For people with disabilities, the disparities are often even more profound.”

Monitoring trends in assistive products access is crucial for effective planning and provision for aging societies. National health and economic surveys occasionally include questions about the use of assistive products as part of routine data collection. Health and ageing focused cohort studies, which conduct surveys with specific groups of people, might also include questions on assistive products. But, until now, there has been no central source for which surveys and studies ask about assistive product use, which make the results of this particular study extremely valuable to ageing and disability researchers in particular.

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Jamie Danemayer, PhD, UCL Interaction Centre, University College London

Banner photo depicting a selection of priority assistive products, specifically glasses, a hearing aid, a wheelchair, an augmentated and alternative communication (AAC) mat, a pill organiser, a cane, a prosthetic leg, and a smart phone. Illustration by Anna Landre

Danemayer, J., Mitra, S., Holloway, C. and Hussein, S. (2023) “Assistive technology access in longitudinal datasets: a global review”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 8(1). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v8i1.1901.