The term assistive technology (AT) is relatively new but its origins go back a long way. Some of the elements of assistive technology, such as aids and adaptations, have been a feature of policies for many years. Before the late 1990s it was more usual to focus on the most common types ‐ telephones, alarms, aids and adaptations. More recently telemedicine and smart houses have come to the fore in policies and research. What is confusing now is that a variety of other terms are being used. In this paper the development of these terms in recent policies and the changing terminology are traced. It is suggested that a narrow interpretation can play down the important role of AT in enabling older people to maintain their independence but that it must be seen in conjunction with other services, especially housing.
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