The Effectiveness of Assistive Technologies for Older Adults and the Influence of Frailty
Systematic Literature Review of Randomized Controlled Trials
Background: The use of assistive technologies (ATs) to support older people has been fueled by the demographic change and technological progress in many countries. These devices are designed to assist seniors, enable independent living at home or in residential facilities, and improve quality of life by addressing age-related difficulties. Objective: We aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of ATs on relevant outcomes with a focus on frail older adults. Methods: A systematic literature review of randomized controlled trials evaluating ATs was performed according to the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines. The Ovid Medline, PsycINFO, SocIndex, CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), CENTRAL (Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials), and IEEEXplore databases were searched from January 1, 2009, to March 15, 2019. ATs were included when aiming to support the domains autonomy, communication, or safety of older people with a mean age ≥65 years. Trials performed within a laboratory setting were excluded. Studies were retrospectively categorized according to the physical frailty status of participants. Results: A total of 19 trials with a high level of heterogeneity were included in the analysis. Six device categories were identified: mobility, personal disease management, medication, mental support, hearing, and vision. Eight trials showed significant effectiveness in all or some of the primary outcome measures. Personal disease management devices seem to be the most effective, with four out of five studies showing significant improvement of disease-related outcomes. Frailty could only be assessed for seven trials. Studies including participants with significant or severe impairment showed no effectiveness. Conclusions: Different ATs show some promising results in well-functioning but not in frail older adults, suggesting that the evaluated ATs might not (yet) be suitable for this subgroup. The uncertainty of the effectiveness of ATs and the lack of high-quality research for many promising supportive devices were confirmed in this systematic review. Large studies, also including frail older adults, and clear standards are needed in the future to guide professionals, older users, and their relatives.