Technology and emotions in elderly care

Older man with VR-glasses.
Antonio Diaz

Digital work tools can facilitate care work for caregivers but also challenge traditional care ideals. This project explores how caregivers manage their emotions when using digital technology in relation to care recipients.

An increasingly large part of Sweden's population will consist of older people in the future. This leads to a greater need for care, while fewer people are of working age. Digital technology in elderly care can be part of the solution to this challenge. Despite that, it has so far been slow to introduce digital technology in care for the elderly. According to previous studies, an obstacle is a resistance to technology within care professions. That resistance, in turn, may be that the use of digital technology – from surveillance cameras to shower robots – clashes with the fact that healthcare professionals value human care highly.

In this project, caregivers' expression of and handling of emotions is investigated in connection with the use of digital tools to practice caring work with users and colleagues. By providing knowledge about caregivers' feelings about digital work in elderly care, the project will contribute to showing how digitalization can take place in a way that makes sense in relation to caregivers' ideals of care.

We combine emotional sociology and techno-sociology to investigate how caregivers and care recipients interact with each other to create emotional spaces typical of care work, but also which elements, such as digital resources, contribute to, or threaten such spaces. When emotional work takes place, the caregiver is guided by the so-called "emotional rules", which come from social conventions, norms and ideals that prevail within the profession and organization in which the individual works. In this regard, emotion regulation becomes particularly interesting to study as it can be assumed to relate to the widespread technology resistance of healthcare personnel that has been noticed in previous research. In this way, the project puts caregivers' emotional work in a social, political and cultural context, where the social conditions of the care profession, political investments in technological development and cultural values both shape and challenge values in elderly care.

The project runs between 2023-2026 and is financed by AFA Försäkring.