UL research programme to investigate new social media platforms for those aged 50+

From left Áine Phelan, ISAX, Dr Sarah Beecham, Lero, Gary Thompson, IBM and Professor Ita Richardson, Lero.

Lero, the Irish Software Research Centre, IBM Ireland and ISAX (Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange) have announced a two year research programme which could result in a new social media platform which would allow older people to offer and receive volunteer services, make new friends and interact. The Science Foundation Ireland supported initial research programme is valued at an estimated €116,400.

UL headquartered Lero, which is managing the programme, is seeking volunteers aged 50+ to participate in the research. Working with IBM and ISAX, Lero, an SFI supported research centre of excellence, will conduct research to collect data, convert the needs of the older person into a usable platform and monitor whether it meets their needs and performs a useful function. 

“This is more than a LinkedIn, Facebook or online water cooler for those aged 50+, although it may share some or all of those attributes,” commented Professor Ita Richardson, Lero co-principal investigator at the University of Limerick.

“Social isolation remains an issue for many older people who still have a lot to offer society but do not necessarily have the means, confidence or encouragement to engage with the wider community through social networking or otherwise,” added Dr Sarah Beecham of Lero who is heading up the programme.

“While there are over 40 applications specifically designed for older people in different regions of the world, it may be that current technology based solutions are not providing the right answer or are failing to reach the older adult.”

“People in their 50s and beyond do not consider themselves old, have a vast array of skills and professional competencies to offer. They have a desire and energy to share their experience with others in their communities. Yet many have trouble finding appropriate ways of meaningfully applying these skills beyond the workplace when they retire or reach a particular age,” said Gary Thompson, IIX Technical Manager, IBM Ireland.

“As part of the programme we will work with Lero as they use our Bluemix™ platform to host a volunteer hub where individuals, local businesses, schools and local communities can come together to enable skill sharing and strengthen community involvement.”

“For many of us social isolation can be an issue when we lose contact with former work colleagues and family has moved on,” commented Aine Phelan, Head of Consumer Insight & Marketing, ISAX. “A key item on the agenda for ageing in Ireland is to give older adults the opportunity to participate as valued members of their communities. A new social media platform, designed specifically for older people, could provide countless benefits to both the receivers and givers of such services or advice as well as society in general.”

Anne Connolly, CEO, ISAX added, “Increasing life expectancy and the rapid ageing of populations, while good news at the individual level, presents society with far reaching challenges, from health, care and pensions to the design of cities and educational systems. 

“But these challenges also represent exciting opportunities for innovation. Through this research, we aim to maximise the opportunities by bringing together business, research and government agencies while ensuring that older adults themselves have a direct contribution to the design and usability of the solutions that emerge.”

All aged 50+ who would like to participate can contact Prof. Ita Richardson, Principal Investigator, Connected Smart Ageing (CSA) at the University of Limerick or email: ita.richardson@lero.ie

ISAX (Ireland Smart Ageing Exchange) is an independent network of businesses, academic institutions and government agencies developing and launching products targeted at the Global Smart Ageing Economy. 

ISAX is contributing to the project by providing access to the population of older adults, offering domain specific expertise and advice, and reviewing deliverables.