August 14, 2018
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Baby boomers and older generations often get stereotyped as technology challenged or even opposed to technology. It is ironic considering they are actually the developers and first adopters of much of our daily use technology—microwaves, music players, ATMs, and cell phones—Boomers used the first iPhones.1,2
According to a recent AARP survey, over 90% of adults age 50 and over own a computer or laptop, 70% have a smartphone, and over 40% own a tablet.3 They’re texting, reading the news, using social media and getting directions from their devices.3 Older adults enjoy and want the benefits of technology. However, they do use technology differently than Millennials and therefore have different expectations.
Older adults face the dual challenges of being both digital immigrants4 and physically aging adults. “This notion that older adults don’t love technology—that’s not on older adults, that’s bad technology,” said Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.1
While Millennials have always used and moved through iterations of daily use technology, it is not the “first language” of the older generation. These digital immigrants have other familiar ways to accomplish most of their tasks. If technology is cumbersome or frustrating, they will prefer to use their previous methods. Older adults expect technology to significantly improve their experience before it warrants adopting. So, they may use devices and operating systems longer than younger generations—then when they do upgrade, it can be more disorientating than for Millennials who have incrementally shifted. They can, as UX strategist Mahsa Yavari explains, have a lack of knowledge of digital conventions—for example, knowing that main logo on a web page will now function as the home button.5
Older adults also must deal with the physical realities of aging. As common and obvious as age-related struggles such as visual definition and fine motor dexterity are, most technology is not built to accommodate them. If it is getting hard for a person to tie a shoe or difficult to see well enough to sew anymore, clicking precisely on tiny, low contrast links is going to be frustrating.
At SONIFI Health, we regularly encounter the myths and challenges related to implementing new technology. With the right approach and design, adopting new technology doesn’t have to be a frustrating ordeal for patients or clinical staff. Here’s some advice based on how we’ve learned to simplify the experience:
- Explain the benefits up front and make them immediate
SONIFI Health includes benefit-based training with staff and offers friendly video orientation at turn on for patients.
- Design broadly to accommodate challenges
“A forgiving design helps the user avoid making mistakes, and if they make one, it makes it easy for them to recover from it.”5 For example, our solution avoids hiding items deeply in submenus and makes use of familiar icons instead of relying solely on tech or medical terms. Content links, scrolling arrows and back/return functions all work from the large bedside controls for easy navigation. And of course, the screen contrast is adjustable.
- Build technology into familiar routines
We design our solution to fit with a facility’s workflow so that adding something like digital in-room education fits with their current strategy for patient education and doesn’t interfere with care. For patients, viewing that assigned education is as familiar and simple as tuning a television channel or reading an email.
Technology and aging expert Richard Pak points out this added benefit to designing technology for older adults: “Doing so will inevitably lead to technology that will end up being easier to use for everyone.”6