Technology for Older Adults
Public access to information that began around the Industrial Era has become more efficient as the use of newer technologies has become increasingly prevalent by both young and older adults in their daily lives. Technology can help people overcome communication obstacles through access to housing, health, social services, and education (Bernard & Phillips, 2000). However, the speed at which modern day technology evolves may make it somewhat difficult for older adults to catch up, and this may create non-age-related user interfaces, both physically and psychologically (Selwyn, Gorard, Furlong, & Madden, 2003). Older adults particularly may need different services and treatment. There have been many attempts to use internet-based communication tools as an aid preventing older adults’ social isolation, with SeniorNet (http://www.seniornet.org) being a good example of this. This research study seeks to determine the nature of the relationship between technology and older adults in terms of establishing a better interactive communication application design for older adults.
Technology and Older Adults
We are currently living in a technology-oriented society (Czaja & Lee, 2012) in which access to information is not difficult and a broad range of technology has enormous potential for enabling older people to improve their quality of life. Nowadays, long-distance family relationships are normal in the United States, with technology providing family members with a means for interacting (Sears & Jacko, 2009). According to data from the research study by Morris, Goodman, and Brading, e-mail and children were two crucial reasons why older adults were motivated to learn about computers and use the Internet ( World wide web consortium, 2008; Morris, Goodman, & Brading, 2007). Online communication is also a good method for regularly connecting with caregivers or doctors for direct counsel and advice. Because some older adults have motor problems, immediate access for security is a priority function they may receive from technology. Moreover, older adults frequently access the Internet to gather information they need to live independently. Continuous and widespread Wi-Fi connections are particularly beneficial to the older adults because of their common mobility problems.
Most older adults with disabilities want to remain living at home, and specialized age-related tools and applications can help older adults achieve this desire. Fast-developing technology allows broad access to information through a Wi-Fi connection, providing superior conditions for delivery of information. In 2010, 42% of older adults over 65 years old and 78% of younger baby boomers ages 50-64 used the Internet (Czaja & Lee, 2012). The latter group of cohorts has since aged, so nearly 80% of Internet users are entering older adulthood. They usually have used computers at their work, for social networking, for shopping, for communication with others, or frequently for entertainment.
As shown in Figure 1, in 2013 59% of older adults over 65 years old had experienced Internet use, and this increase in the population of older adults will soon affect today’s Social Security, Medicare, families, businesses, and health care providers (Vincent & Velkoff, 2010). Moreover, it is true that there are currently many barriers to overcome for people with age-related difficulties related to psychological and physical decline and chronic diseases.
[Figure 1. Internet adoption over time, seniors vs. all adults]
Older adults may have missed education in terms of computers in their working environment when they were young, while younger adults are more likely to have been trained with computers at school or at work. That means that older adults may very often have not been exposed to the use of the Internet (Mitzner et al., 2010). According to the research of Mitzner et al. (2010), older adults primarily use technology for communication and cooking at home, communication and administrative tasks at work, and for health research or monitoring. As shown in the data (Mitzner et al., 2010), communication was the most significant reason for older adults to use technology at home and at work. On the other hand, they may dislike technology for reasons related to inconveniences such as annoyance by interruptions (e.g., unwanted calls or commercial advertisements).
Moreover, there are many barriers not present for younger adults which are still a challenge for older adults. These need to be understood in order to provide alternatives for overcoming those problems. One such barrier is a lack of education and experience (Barnard, Bradley, Hodgson, & Lloyd, 2013). Another research study argues that low confidence and high anxiety about computers can affect the frequency of technology usage (Mitzner et al., 2010).
Human factors can be defined in terms of interaction between humans and systems as they work (Wickens, Becker, Liu, & Lee, 1998). Assistive technologies based on human factors are helpful services or devices from ranging from “low-level to high-tech” to help individual users perform tasks to maximize their independent living (Beech & Roberts, 2008). Their priority is to enhance cost-effective independent living longer at home and reduction of social isolation through the use of technology at home. There are several role categories in assistive technology.
First is to help older people perform difficult tasks, such as medication reminders or video-monitored door entry systems. Second is producing detective and responsive reactions to risks or alarms through mechanisms such as panic buttons or gas detectors. Final are predictive and preventive intervention mechanisms such as fall notifiers and monitors for particular physical symptoms (Beech & Roberts, 2008). Moreover, individual-centered health and social care needs have led to progress in creating assistive technology for personal care. Many older adults may have different chronic symptoms and diseases that require devices and services adjusted to an individual’s unique conditions (Horowitz et al., 2006).
The benefits older people can receive from assistive technology are various: more personal control of individual conditions, better quality of life through devices or services, attention to home maintenance, reduction of workloads for caregivers, better conditioned support, and reaction to falls at home with alarm devices such as panic buttons (Beech & Roberts, 2008). Among assistive technologies, support for social networking is one of the key factors to help the older adults socialize.
Role of Social Network
Social networking for older adults is an assistive communication technology where human factors play very important roles with respect to interacting with technology and environments. Older adults’ special characteristics may require different perceptions of human factors because their vision, hearing, and cognitive impairments may be totally different from those of younger people. This means that older adults need social networks with appropriate environments with respect to design and services provided. Many researchers argue that social computing activities can reduce symptoms of impairments such as (Antonucci, 1990; Wright, 1999) stress and levels of mortality and mobility, and can thereby improve psychological well-being. However, connections through on-line communications are usually not as strong as those with family members, and so are called weak ties. Social networks have relatively slight obligation and attachments that do not require close relationships with other members.
[Figure 2. Social networking site use over time by age group]
On the other hand, one of the advantages of using social networks is the freedom to choose any topic for discussion. Use of social network sites by older adults in U.S. has been slightly increasing in recent years, but not more than that of younger adults [Figure 2]. As shown in the graph, 46% of older adults use social networks, compared to 78% by younger adults. SeniorNet (http://seniornet.org) is one of the largest on-line communities for older adults 65 years or older. They share information, give and receive discussion related to common interests and problems while defining their online relationship as a surrogate family (Wright, 1999). Sometimes they may receive advice from others or find suitable answers from others’ conversations. They discuss their family issues and sometimes even share emotions with the members in the online space. SeniorNet members share their life events in the forum under the same topic (Wright, 1999). Social networking improves the evolution of interpersonal relationships by sharing humor, family issues, and general living. Moreover, long-distance relationships can provide chances to meet various people whose experiences differ from their own. Also, gathering multiple ideas or advice in a short period of time from diverse people is different from face-to-face communication. While sharing one’s life with others and helping individuals, members can feel more connected with society as human beings (Wright, 1999).
Speech Input and Output Method for Interaction
The older adults tend to have more difficulty adapting to technology than young people. If it is possible to provide contents or verbal comments rather than entering information with a keyboard, it may be easier for older adults to add their story at the interface of the social network. Speech technology is defined as the “easiest and most natural modality of human-computer interaction (HCI)” (Teixeira et al., 2014, p.390) to give older people a chance to establish an easy connection to society activities. Speech technology is used in many areas such as voice output communication aids (VOCA) to help people who may have dysarthria or other speech impairment, speech recognition difficulties in reading, writing, programming, and environmental control. If older adults have use of an application providing a verbal communication method, this could provide healthy communication activities to be enjoyed with friends and family members while interacting with them through their story. They could also indicate someone’s feeling or health status through their voice inflections while listening to their story in their private story room. Some research studies have concluded that computer-mediated communication can help establish interpersonal relationships (Wright, 1999).
In this sense, it has been verified that tablet-based applications can use speech technology as a method for interactive support. Users can upload pictures of their story along with their own voice comments and can receive comments from others with their own unique speech patterns.
The tablet is based on a touchscreen display, commonly touched with fingers, and runs applications through an on-screen keyboard. The tablet typically has a minimum screen size of five inches (Magsamen-Conrad, Dowd, Abuljadail, Alsulaiman, & Shareefi, 2015). One tablet’s feature is connectivity either via Wi-Fi or via cellular networks. A simplified interface with larger screens and ease of use is one of the reasons why the tablet industry continues to prosper. A larger size interface provides a better environment for older adults than that of a smartphone. When dealing with allotted tasks, a touch interface directly reduces cognitive attention requirements (McLaughlin et al., 2009) by using fingers instead of a mouse that would tend to require more attention in performing tasks. For example, when a user clicks a menu button, he or she must concentrate at pointing at a menu with the mouse; this may be difficult for older people because they have experienced the decline in haptics, spatial, and attention abilities, related to muscle movement, selective attention, and spatial relationships with objects.
Older generations tend to confront more difficulties than other age groups in dealing with new technologies. Today’s older adults have been getting more familiar with new technology than those in the past because today’s older adults are more experienced with emerging new technologies. Also, the psychological and physical decline may affect their adoption of new technologies (Magsamen-Conrad et al., 2015), so tablet technology represents a potential method for enhancing older adults’ usage. The screen size allows button sizes sufficiently larger than those of many other devices and touch-based devices can help older adults reduce the need to expend attention by clicking on a menu choice with a mouse. Moreover, the early baby boomer generation has now begun their older adult life and their experiences will undoubtedly enhance technological development.
As shown in Figure 3, according to the Pew Research Center, 27% of older people aged over 65years have tablet devices rather than smartphones used by only 18% of older adults. Moreover, using devices of this type is affected by income, education, and age.
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