Technology Gap for Seniors Can be Reduced by Design
While more older adults than ever are using cell phones and
computers, a technology gap still exists that threatens to turn senior
citizens into second-class citizens, according to Florida State
Psychologists found that both the attitudes and abilities of older adults
pose barriers to adopting new forms of technology and urged designers
to consider those barriers when developing new products.
Neil Charness, the William G. Chase
Professor of Psychology, and Walter R. Boot, an assistant professor of
psychology, will publish a review of the research on the topic in Current Directions in Psychological Science.
technology gap is a problem because technology, particularly computer
and Internet technology, is becoming ubiquitous, and full participation
in society becomes more difficult for those without such access," said
airline tickets to seeking health care information, almost everything
is easier, cheaper or faster online. Older adults who may be less
mobile in particular stand to benefit from innovations such as online
Decline is Internet Use After Age 65
But there is a sharp decline in Internet use after age 65, the
researchers said, citing a 2007 Pew Tracking Survey that showed
percent of adults in 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44 age groups used the
- By contrast, only 39 percent of adults between 65 and 74,
24 percent of adults between 75 and 84 were Internet users.
cognitive processes, decreased memory capacity and difficulty
maintaining attention -- all part of the normal aging process -- can
make it difficult for seniors to learn new skills.
Twice the Time to Learn New Technology
In fact, Charness
said, it takes older adults roughly twice as long as younger people to
learn a new word processor under self-paced learning conditions. That's
true even for older adults who have prior experience with another word
The extra time and effort required to learn a new
skill are among the reasons why older adults are generally less
motivated than younger people to learn new skills -- particularly if
they decide that the potential benefits of the new technology are not
Seniors may make a greater number of errors as
they interact with technology that was not designed with their
capabilities in mind.
Seniors quite literally perceive new
technology differently than younger adults do.
Changes in acuity, color
perception and susceptibility to glare affect the way they see a
They also have greater difficulty with fine motor
control and coordination.
can create better products for older adults, the researchers said.
Among their suggestions:
- Create cell phones with simplified menus, large fonts and buttons and external noise reduction.
Web sites with high contrast backgrounds and text, larger fonts and
minimal scrolling. The sites should provide navigation aids and
- Computer games -- such as Nintendo's Brain
Age -- and software packages that have been developed for and marketed
to older adults may also help reverse age-related declines in
perceptual and cognitive abilities, the researchers said.
is limited but encouraging evidence that these so-called brain fitness
software packages make a difference in improving some basic skills, but
so far there is little evidence that they improve older adults' quality
of life or ability to live independently," Boot said. "That should be
the measure of success in evaluating these programs."
the technology gap between younger and older adults is expected to
lessen over time as more adults "grow up" with computers, the problem
will not disappear in future generations, the researchers said. That's
because technology will undoubtedly continue to advance rapidly, and
age-related declines in cognitive, perceptual and psychomotor skills
will make it more difficult for seniors to keep up with the changes.
believe it? Consider that today's seniors grew up with telephones, and
yet they have been much slower to adapt to using cell phones.
those over 65 are more likely to use a cell phone -- 46 percent of them
do -- than use the Internet.
Charness, who along with Boot received a $1.5 million, five-year
subcontract from a National Institute of Aging grant to support the
Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement
(CREATE). Established a decade ago, the center is comprised of
researchers at FSU, the University of Miami and the Georgia Institute
of Technology, who study ways to increase technology use in order to
promote cognition and health in older Americans.
Source: Newswise, Inc.
Editor, Carolyn Allen
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