Shot of happy senior women using virtual reality headsets together at a retirement home

A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has been awarded £1.6m to further explore how digital resources such as virtual reality can help maintain health for older people.

The three-year project is a collaboration between the University of Stirling and University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology. The Plymouth team, led by Professor Ray Jones, will build on a number of previous projects looking at digital health initiatives among older people, including virtual reality walks through villages, towns, the countryside and museums.

The Centre for Health Technology will partner with seven charity and community groups* in the South West working with older people and younger participants living in the community, as well as residents from eight care homes in Cornwall. Over the course of the three-year project, the research team will record the different groups’ experiences of digital resources and assistive technologies and then share their findings with business partners – small to medium-sized enterprises – to develop new technologies, product ideas and test design concepts.

The work is aligned to the University of Plymouth’s existing EPIC project and will expand on the networks within it.

Known as the GOALD (Generating Older Active Lives Digitally) project, the new work has been funded by UK Research and Innovation as part of the healthy ageing challenge to ensure we all live healthier and more connected lives. This programme is providing a total of £9.5m across the UK for interdisciplinary academic-led teams to carry out research into social, behavioural and design aspects of healthy ageing. The programme aims to contribute to the challenge mission of ensuring people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the richest and poorest by enhancing our understanding of the aspirations, preferences and needs of the ageing population.

Professor Catherine Hennessy, project lead from the University of Stirling, said: 

“Developing and strengthening older people's links with community, resources and meaningful activities is a key part of supporting healthy ageing and reducing health inequalities in later life. COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the need to be able to deliver programmes for older people in a socially distanced world, while it has also highlighted the need to urgently address so-called 'digital divides' – inequalities in access to digital connectivity through age, economic disadvantage and functional limitations. This programme will stimulate developments which help to tackle and reduce these issues.”

Professor Jones added: 

“As well as better understanding the role technology can play, we will work with small businesses in the South West to make sure that this has impact. The Centre for Health Technology is all about ensuring the work we do reaches the people who need it most, so we’re looking forward to getting started with our community partners.”

GOALD, full title, ‘Connectivity and Digital Design for Promoting Health and Well-being Across Generations, Places and Spaces’ will begin in March and run for three years.

*The University of Plymouth is collaborating with:
• iSight Cornwall
• Hearing Loss Cornwall
• Breathers
• Cornwall Rural Community Charity
• St Breward Village
• Devon and Cornwall South Asian Society
• Nudge, Community Builders

Professor Ray Jones

Professor Ray Jones is Professor of Health Informatics and Co-Director of the Centre for Health Technology at the University of Plymouth. 

He leads the eHealth and Productivity in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) project (funded by the European Regional Development Fund), which works to create a sustainable eHealth sector in the region, supporting regional businesses and addressing the challenges faced by ageing communities in coastal and rural settings.

Find out more about Professor Ray Jones

Ray Jones

Centre for Health Technology

Bringing together digital health and health technology expertise from across the University to drive the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative technologies, products, services and approaches to transform health and social care.

Find out more about the Centre for Health Technology
Online tele medicine isometric concept. Medical consultation and treatment via application of smartphone connected internet clinic.