Final Statement

For the past few months, my fellow students and I have tried to (dis)prove the statement mentioned in the title above. In the following paragraphs, I’d like to summarize some of the results while simultaneously having a closer look at a few of them, considering the knowledge gained in the process. There are four important words in the statement: elderly, eager, technology and facilitate. Each of these loosely ties in with a certain subject discussed on the blog and each will be analyzed in no particular order.

Technology
While technology is commonly perceived as a high-tech solution involving electronics among other things, it can be surprisingly simple. Examples of technology include grab bars or a frying pan just as well as a calculator or a notebook. It’s often opportune to simplify your hardware in order to reduce costs, increase durability and facilitate the ease of use (although there are other solutions as will be discussed later on). While this is not a major subject of the blog, it deserves recognition all the same.

Facilitate
Different people have widely different views on the definition of this term, which is one of the main reasons technological improvement often misses the mark when it comes to a certain demographic. Specifically in this case, there’s a difference between what elderly perceive as a useful advancement compared to younger generations. There exists a plethora of examples – like mobile phones, computers or microwave ovens – where a discrepancy between opinions is prevalent. While the younger citizens are unable to function without any of these, many older citizens refuse to use them, even going as far as ignoring the technology when it’s presented to them. This clearly shows it’s not a matter of price on its own, but a certain disdain for technology. As I postulated in the section above, this is in no way limited to high-tech appliances: people of a respectable age are just as likely to refuse a wheelchair or a walking cane.
Three main reasons for this refusal can be discerned. First of all, elderly most often like to retain some measure of independence. By using a walking cane, they appear old and crippled while a mobile phone makes it easy to check up on them, making some feel restricted. While this kind of behaviour can be considered irrational, all people (not just some elderly) suffer from this to a certain extent. It’s also easy to see the risks these technologies might create. If you could for instance buy a robot that makes sure your grandparents are well fed, you might be less inclined to check up on them. Social isolation is an all too common result of the modern age, which makes elderly stay on their own more often, thus resulting in more isolation. This especially becomes an issue when mobility is concerned. However, when the senior citizens do not accept technology, they’re often deemed too time-consuming, resulting in them being transferred to a home or nursery, which evades the issue itself. When elderly are unable to provide for themselves, they’re dependent on technology. If they refuse to use technology, someone else will use it for them.
The second reason is a recognizable one: the senior citizens don’t “get it”. They do not see the value of the technology presented. Why should they learn to type an email if they can just as well write a letter? Why should they take a mobile phone with them when they go out, since they’re perfectly capable of finding their way back home on their own? The best solution here is often the one of the easiest: educate them. When there’s a certain advantage to an appliance, enlightening the person you wish to make use of it sounds like an easy enough solution. If the technology is indeed as valuable as you think, you might just change their mind. It is however important to re-evaluate your own opinion on the matter. It’s ineffective to try to force someone to use technology they truly don’t need. More often than not, the elderly need a certain urge to use the appliances for this strategy to be effective. There is of course always a risk that the idea proposed above backfires and the senior citizens revert to a defensive mode (reason one) or fail to use the technology altogether (reason three).
This immediately introduced the third reason: inability. Some elderly want to make use of technology, but fail when it comes down to it. This is most often the case with high-tech applications as the learning curve is regrettably a lot higher in these cases. Contrary to popular belief, this seems to be less of an issue if enough motivation is present. Studies – like the one by Ulrike Pfeil, Raj Arjan and Panayiotis Zaphiris on Age differences in online social networking – A study of user profiles and the social capital divide among teenagers and older users in MySpace – claim that the skill barrier isn’t harder to cross for elderly compared to younger people. There is however a difference in levels of transfer (a term coined by Carole Myers and Mark Conner in Age Differences in Skill Acquisition and Transfer in an Implicit Learning Paradigm). This means that older citizens have greater difficulty in using skills from other domains in a new task. This level of transfer decreases with age and is one of the reasons young children have an easier time learning a new language once they know the basics of their mother tongue.
One of the most promising new philosophies that, among other things, deal with the latter two of these reasons, is ubiquitous computing (Poslad, Stefan (2009), Ubiquitous Computing Smart Devices, Smart Environments and Smart Interaction). This describes a state of technology where the inner workings of applications aren’t noticeable, or to explain more formally using a quote from Human–computer interaction issues for mobile computing in a variable work context by J. York and P.C. Pendharkar:
“machines that fit the human environment instead of forcing humans to enter theirs”
By removing the inner layers from sight, technology gains a new level of acceptance and ease of use. Ideally, one wouldn’t be able to realize he/she is making use of technology at all. Wireless networks and nanotechnology are some of the few integrated techniques that are sure to receive a lot more attention in the future, lowering the bar for elderly (and indeed all users) to make use of modern appliances.

Eager
This term has been integrated into the previous section; however I’d like to briefly elaborate on the subject. While motivation is an incredibly important aspect of every learning process, it’s not as easy to manipulate, especially in the case of the elderly. Studies like Shopping orientation segmentation of the elderly consumer by J. R. Lumpkin, show that senior citizens are more rigid to change and less inclined to purchase new products. While this type of behaviour is difficult to change, it’s important to facilitate the learning process as much as possible. Elderly who wish to cope with new technology have to be encouraged to do so and should be assisted if necessary. This may include techniques like gerontechnology, Elderly Computers or ubiquitous computing as defined in the previous section.

Elderly
Last, but certainly not least, it’s important to evaluate this final term. While the word ‘elderly’ seems easy enough to comprehend, there’s one significant aspect that has been discussed at length on the blog: the younger generations of today are the elderly of tomorrow. A common misconception in the (economic) world is that every individual generation wants to be treated as such, yet they plan the future like the next generation will be no different from the current. In the context of this subject, it’s important to realize that the issues affecting the current generation of senior citizens might be different from those affecting the future generations. This has a few interesting implications.
For one, the addiction to technology of the current younger generations might come back to haunt them later on. For most people, it has become impossible to function without the use of a computer or a mobile phone. When cognitive and motor functions start degrading, the use of these applications might become more difficult, leading to issues when dealing with the new technologies of that day and age. But other appliances like elevators are also common practice. These might for example further degrade mobility by offering an easy way out for elderly struggling with their motor functions.
These are all relatively minor concerns however, as the real issue is clear: adapting technology to older people might not be as effective. Younger generations can type a message on their mobile phone in a few seconds. It’s not infeasible to state that their issues with mobile phones in the future will be less prevalent or even non-existent. The elderly of tomorrow will face their own challenges regarding the new technologies that are developed at that time. Thus a more in-depth solution is required, a solution that instead of “fixing” technology that wasn’t properly designed for the elderly, creates technology useable by all from the get-go. Ubiquitous computing immediately springs to mind as a possible alternative. By removing the user interface and integrating the technology in our daily lives, changes might be turned into a more gradual process. This becomes all the more important when one realizes the rate, at which new technology gets introduced, is only increasing. If we then consider the fact that future senior citizens will retain a lot of their appliances and habits from their younger days, it quickly becomes clear that the elderly of the future will have to deal with a large amount of information. Some might even state we’re talking about an excessive amount, as the same limitations (level of transfer among others) will still apply. Will the elderly of the future be able to relinquish some of their technology in order to adapt to new applications or do old habits die hard indeed?

Conclusion
Are the elderly eager to use technology that will facilitate their lives? To an extent, they certainly are, so in that case the answer has to be a clear “yes”. However, it’s important to keep in mind that “facilitate” is a word with many facets, some which differ greatly in meaning depending on who you’re asking. Not all technology strictly makes things easier, especially when you consider the many maintenance and repair duties that come along with it. In a way, senior citizens are already using technology in their lives today. However new ideas and appliances are often met with resistance and rigidity, especially from the elderly. When all is said and done, motivation is still a necessary component that can’t be ignored. While encouragement and ease of use might convince some older people to make a leap of fate, their inherent lack of change will still remain a bump along the way. And that is of course where it all comes down to in the end. The most important word used in the title of this statement is without a doubt “their”, whoever “they” will be in the future.

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Final Statement

Samen met enkele van mijn collega’s bediscussieerde ik gedurende enkele maanden onze ideeën in een blog met als thema de stelling: “Ouderen gebruiken graag nieuwe technologieën als dit hun leven kan vergemakkelijken (The elderly are eager to use technology that will facilitate their lives)”. In dit document geef ik een overzicht van deze discussie en licht ik mijn uiteindelijke conclusies hierover toe. Hierbij geef ik een gefundeerd antwoord in verband met de centrale stelling.

De centrale stelling van de blog kan worden verdeeld in meerdere delen die elk een deel van de discussie belichten.

Technology

Wat verstaan we onder technologie? Technologie kan zeer gevarieerd opgevat worden. We kunnen het hebben over een compleet nieuwe technologie zoals een exoskeleton of over een nieuwe manier van omgaan met al aangeleerde technologieën zoals sociale netwerken op een computer. Vergeten we echter niet dat technologie ook minder hoogdravend kan zijn. Een gewone stang waarmee ouderen veilig uit hun bad kunnen opstaan, is ook een technologie die ouderen het leven vergemakkelijkt.

Nieuwe technologie hoeft ook niet a priori moeilijker te zijn in gebruik. Zo wordt vaak van de I-phone en I-pad beweerd dat zelfs een baby ermee kan omgaan. Hoewel dit een lichte overdrijving is, merken we toch op dat deze toestellen zeer gebruiksvriendelijk zijn. In de technologie kan ook het concept “ubiquity” (letterlijk vertaald alomtegenwoordigheid) toegepast worden. Dit concept houdt in dat de technologie in de omgeving opgaat zodat deze niet meer te herkennen is als technologie en voor de ouderen ook geen probleem meer kan vormen.

Eager

In welke mate zijn de ouderen geneigd om nieuwe technologieën te gebruiken? Dit is één van de basisvragen die we ons gesteld hebben in onze blog. Via een enquête hadden we al een goed idee van het standpunt van een aantal ouderen in Leuven ten opzichte van nieuwe technologie. Uit de antwoorden bleek dat de meeste ouderen eerder gereserveerd waren tegenover nieuwe technologie, in het bijzonder internet en gsm. Toch beweerde een groot deel van de ondervraagden dat ze nieuwe medische technologie zouden toelaten als dit hun leven sterk genoeg zou verbeteren. De hoofdredenen voor hun gereserveerdheid waren de hoge kostprijs of de vrees voor de aantasting van hun sociaal leven. En dit laatste is voor ouderen zeer kostbaar.

Hierna hebben we de vraag verder uitgespit of ouderen geneigd zijn om nieuwe technologieën te gebruiken. We deden dit aan de hand van enkele casussen.

Het bleek niet zo evident om zomaar te stellen dat de ouderen al dan niet graag nieuwe technologieën gebruiken. Er waren een aantal casussen waarbij de ouderen de technologie niet gebruikten ondanks het feit dat ze over de technologie beschikten. Eén voorbeeld hiervan was het val alarm, waarvan bleek dat 80% van de ouderen deze niet gebruikten hoewel ze er wel één in huis hadden. Er waren echter ook gevallen waarbij de ouderen de nieuwe technologie omarmden en gebruikten voor doeleinden waar de ontwerpers nog niet eens aan gedacht hadden. Een voorbeeld hiervan was Aibo. Deze robothond was aan enkele ouderen gegeven om te onderzoeken hoe ze met deze technologie om zouden gaan. Al snel bleek dat de ouderen totaal verknocht waren aan ‘hun’ Aibo. Bovendien gaven ze de robot een persoonlijkheid. Ze gebruikten hem ook om nieuwe sociale contacten te leggen met andere ouderen en bestaande contacten te onderhouden. Deze neveneffecten hadden de ontwikkelaars totaal niet verwacht.

We hebben gemerkt dat ouderen net als andere (leeftijds-) groepen niet in één vakje te plaatsten zijn. De marketeers die Gerontechnology (= technologie voor ouderen) aan de man brengen, verdelen de ouderen in een aantal subdoelgroepen (bvb early adapters,…). Net als bij jongere leeftijdsgroepen zullen er ouderen zijn die sneller een nieuwe technologie zullen uitproberen dan anderen en eventueel zelfs die anderen mee over de schreef zullen halen. Hierbij moeten we toch opmerken dat ouderen niet helemaal gelijk gesteld kunnen worden aan jongere doelgroepen. Ouderen hebben al een veel langer leven achter zich waarin ze altijd hebben kunnen overleven zonder die bepaalde technologie. Soms is het een soort trots die hen ervan weerhoudt om te werken met nieuwe technologieën. Men zou langs de andere kant ook kunnen stellen dat ouderen gewoon minder vatbaar zijn voor marketingcampagnes. Ze laten zich niet zo gemakkelijk aanpraten dat ze dit product echt ‘nodig’ hebben, aangezien ze weten dat ze tijdens hun hele leven ook geen nood aan dit product hebben gehad.

Hierdoor valt ook gemakkelijk te begrijpen waarom ouderen vaak nieuwe technologieën te duur vinden. Hoeveel geld men voor iets wilt geven hangt sterk samen met de waarde die men hieraan toekent. Aangezien de ouderen vaak geen nood voelen om een nieuwe technologie aan te schaffen, zal men hier dan ook niet zoveel geld voor willen betalen als de jongere generatie zou doen.

Facilitate

Eén woord in de centrale stelling mag echter niet worden vergeten: de term ‘facilitate’, in het Nederlands letterlijk vertaald als ‘vergemakkelijken’. Dit wordt vaak vergeten wanneer men verwacht dat oudere mensen met een bepaalde technologie zullen omgaan. Men moet zich afvragen of het gebruik van deze technologie hun leven wel zal vergemakkelijken. Wanneer men een oudere een computer geeft en hem verplicht om daarmee zijn inkopen te laten leveren, zodat hij niet meer helemaal naar de winkel hoeft te lopen, zal dit voor deze oudere niet altijd als een verbetering aangevoeld worden. Dit betekent voor hem bijvoorbeeld dat hij zijn huis niet meer uit kan om naar de winkel te gaan. Maar deze activiteit zorgt er net voor dat hij bekenden tegenkomt waarmee hij kan praten. Zo gaat deze technologie hem meer en meer vereenzamen, wat zal resulteren in een sterk verminderde levenskwaliteit. We moeten ons dus steeds afvragen of de technologie die we aan onze ouderen opdringen wel in hun voordeel is. Vele artikelen die speciaal bedoeld zijn voor ouderen, zijn niet voldoende voor deze doelgroep ontwikkeld. De kopers van deze artikelen zijn immers meestal de kinderen van bejaarden. De aankoop is wel goed bedoeld, maar de kinderen weten zelf niet altijd wat het beste voor hun ouders is. Dit brengt ons in een negatieve spiraal. De kinderen kopen wat ze denken dat goed is voor hun ouders en de verkopers verkopen wat de kinderen kopen. De kinderen ten slotte, zullen door de verkoopspraatjes van de verkopers geneigd zijn dingen voor hun ouders te kopen die ze anders niet zouden kopen.

Als we het hebben over vergemakkelijken zal ubiquity, zoals reeds eerder aangehaald, een grote rol spelen. Veel technologieën zouden puur gezien wel het leven van de ouderen kunnen vergemakkelijken maar dat gaat ten koste van een lange leerperiode, wat voor de ouderen vaak een opgave is waar ze het nut niet van inzien. Ubiquity zou dit laatste aspect echter wegnemen, aangezien ze in het ideale geval niets zouden moeten bijleren om met de technologie te kunnen omgaan. Hierdoor zou zelfs de moeilijkste technologie kunnen aangewend worden om het leven van ouderen te vergemakkelijken.

Ouderen

Het eerste woord in de stelling is ‘ouderen’. We hebben in onze blog de term ouderen vooral gebruikt om een groep mensen aan te duiden die zich in een late fase van hun leven bevinden: gepensioneerden of ouder. We maakten deze keuze omdat men in het dagelijkse leven reeds het idee krijgt dat deze doelgroep nieuwe technologieën schuwt of toch minstens een afwachtende houding hiertegenover inneemt. In principe hadden we hier ook alle mensen kunnen nemen die een bepaalde technologie nog niet kennen, doch dit had beduidend andere resultaten gegeven. Uit onderzoek is bijvoorbeeld gebleken dat: “hoewel ouderen nog steeds kunnen bijleren, ze in veel mindere mate (of zelfs niet) hun opgedane kennis kunnen aanpassen aan een probleem uit een andere context, waar deze aangepaste kennis van nut zou kunnen zijn[1]”. Dit vermogen blijkt te verminderen met de leeftijd. Hierdoor zullen de ouderen veel minder snel vergelijkbare technologieën leren, aangezien ze de linken tussen deze technologieën niet kunnen leggen. Ook zijn er nog andere factoren in het spel, zo zullen de nieuwere technologieën altijd verder afstaan van oudere technologieën dan van de jongere. Een bejaarde die met oudere technologie heeft leren werken zal verder afstaan van de nieuwe technologieën dan een dertiger die dezelfde nieuwe technologie zou moeten leren.

De term ‘ouderen’ is echter geen statisch begrip, onveranderlijk in de tijd en de ruimte. De ouderen van vandaag zijn niet de ouderen van morgen. Waar de ouderen van vandaag de dag nog moeite hebben met het omgaan met een computer, zullen de ouderen over dertig jaar het grootste deel van hun leven met computers gewerkt hebben en hiermee dus niet het minste probleem hebben (afgezien van misschien de nood aan een groter toetsenbord en grotere letters op het scherm). Dit is een zeer belangrijk punt uit de blog om te onthouden. Dit betekent immers dat huidige voorbeelden uit het dagelijkse leven of voorbeelden uit de geschiedenis weliswaar zeer interessant kunnen zijn. Maar tevens moet er altijd een onderscheid gemaakt worden tussen het deel dat enkel informatie over dat moment geeft en de elementen die algemeen toepasbaar zijn op ouderen van alle tijden.

Een andere veranderlijke binnen de groep ouderen is de cultuur waarin ze leven. Aangezien de cultuur een grote invloed heeft op de manier waarop mensen hun wereld beschouwen, kan men zich afvragen in welke mate cultuur een invloed heeft op de manier waarop ouderen aankijken tegen nieuwe technologie. In onze discussie hebben we besloten dat, hoewel de cultuur een grote invloed heeft op de mate waarin de ouderen technologie toelaten, de basisgevoelens over het algemeen zeer vergelijkbaar zijn.

Conclusie

Gebruiken ouderen graag nieuwe technologieën als dit hun leven kan vergemakkelijken? Zoals te verwachten was, is hier geen afdoend antwoord op te geven. Ouderen zijn over het algemeen zeker happig op het gebruik van nieuwe technologieën maar er zijn enkele factoren die dit afremmen. Ten eerste zal een antwoord nooit gelden voor alle ouderen, aangezien ouderen zoals alle mensen elk verschillend zijn met elk hun eigen persoonlijke kijk op technologie. Ten tweede moeten ze het nut van deze nieuwe technologie kunnen inzien. Zal deze technologie hun leven wel vergemakkelijken? Hierbij moet vermeld worden dat ouderen een zeer kieskeurige doelgroep zijn aangezien ze al veel levenswijsheid hebben vergaard en daardoor beter weten wat ze al dan niet nodig hebben. Soms zijn ze ook gewoon te trots. Ouderen zijn ook maar mensen die niet graag ouder worden. Zo kan technologie speciaal bedoeld voor ouderen, of mensen die niet meer goed te been zijn, te confronterend voor hen zijn. Het drukt hen met de neus op feiten die ze liever zouden omzeilen. Ten slotte moet er ook worden opgemerkt dat de ouderen, hoewel nog steeds in staat bij te leren, minder snel linken zullen leggen tussen reeds aangeleerde technologieën waardoor ze moeilijker met nieuwe technologieën zullen kunnen omgaan.

Om af te sluiten nog even dit: Kunnen wij onze ouderen nu helpen om met technologie om te gaan? Het antwoord hierop is volmondig: ja! Door als ingenieur technologie zo onzichtbaar mogelijk te ontwerpen, het gebruik volledig intuïtief te maken en de marketing op de noden van de ouderen af te stemmen maken we het voor onze oudere medemens al een stuk makkelijker om graag nieuwe technologiën te gebruiken.

Referenties

[1] “Age Differences in Skill Acquisition and Transfer in an Implicit Learning Paradigm”, C. Myers, M. Conner, Applied Cognitive Psychology, Sep/Oct92, Vol. 6 Issue 5, p429

[2] “The elderly are eager to use technology that will facilitate their lives “, enerexxo.wordpress.com, 2011

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Final Statement

The statement of our blog was “The elderly are eager to use technology that will facilitate their lives”. Our investigation has showed that the opinions about this statement are divided.  

The first important word in our statement is “elderly”. When do people become an elderly? Normally it’s at an age of 65 after peoples retirement. So elderly are the people between an age of 65 and ….years. Therefore there’s a difference in age about 20 to 30 years between the “youngest” and the “oldest” elderly. This is a large range, it’s logic that there is a difference in needs inside this group. It’s like seeing the group youth as one group and designing the same devices for a kid of 2 years old and one of 22.  Maybe this example is exaggerated because you may think the youth change a lot in a few years. But so does elderly in a range of 20 years. For example the computer hype started 10-15 years ago. People start learning to work with it at their work, or by their children, grandchildren. The elderly nowadays can be divided in two groups, the one who learned to work with it before their retirement, and the oldest elderly who were already retired at the beginning of the hype of the computer. There will be many exceptions who learned working with the computer after their retirement, but a lot of these older elderly didn’t do it or didn’t want to do it. People are different , have their own vision, opinion en principals and they have certainly different opinions on our statement.

A second important word is “technology”. The market of technology is changing all the time, and there are constantly new devices that are invented. But people get used to this new applications and after a few years it’s so established that it’s not really technology anymore. For example: in 1908 Ford came up with the genius Model T, this design made that the automobile became popular. This was the start of a device, that at this time  is been used weekly by approximately 45% of the Belgian population. This Ford Model T who was once a really new technology, isn’t anymore. What I mean is that the youth and middle age people learn to work with the technology of this time like cell phones, computers, IPod’s,… . And in 30 years when they are the elderly they don’t have a problem with technology. But I suppose there will be new devices (like the new technologies you can see in movies as The Matrix,..) and although we like technology and gadgets, maybe the new technologies then are also against our principals because we didn’t grew up with them.

Then there is the word “facilitate”, designers try to design devices that would help the elderly and that are adapted to their wishes. But elderly are not always happy with this devices, why?

Psychological threshold

What about the well known sentence: “I’m too old for technology”? It’s true that when your are young it’s easier to learn new things. But the elderly certainly are capable of learning new information, but fail to convert new skills to applications in a slightly different domain. I think this is not a reason why elderly won’t use technology. If they want, they could learn to work with these technologies. The real question is, are they willing to learn? There will always be elderly who refuse working with technology and they never will. They think: if I can live without technology 60 years why should we suddenly need it? Technology has caused  a enormous change in lifestyle true the years. As younger people we are addicted to technology. For example: we really feel “naked” if we have to live without our mobile, computer or car for a few days because  it’s broken. For the most elderly it’s not a problem if there mobile is broken because they are used to live without it. (That’s why a lot of elderly who have a mobile don’t really use it or forget it when they going out). I think that with our continuous innovative consumer market, research and inventions, there will always be some new technology where younger people are more familiar with than elderly. So learning to work with technology is more a matter of attitude of the elderly.

Design

In my first opinion I thought there are a few topics who are important when you want to design something for the target group elderly. And it’s true that topics like simplicity, security/privacy, social relationships,… are important. Designers are really trying to fit technology in the lives of the elderly, and make it as pleasant in use as possible. As an example there is gerontechnology it’s a combination of gerontology and technology. So it’s designing technology and environment for independent living and social participation of older persons in good health, comfort and safety. The designers try to answer the needs of the elderly, and still there are a lot of elderly who refuse to use technology. Why? Because these topics as simplicity, security,.. are not enough. As you can read in the blog, there are a lot of devices who answers to these topics. Like a basic phone (with a minimum of buttons and an extra panic button), a Personal Emergency Response ( a panic button for the elderly who has fallen), a hearing aid and so on. All of this topics have been met in most of the devices. In my second opinion there is another important factor: pride and/or dignity. It’s often the pride of the elderly that hold them back of using these technologies. Elderly (and humans in generally) don’t like to show their health problems. Elderly try to stay as independent as possible, as long as possible, because once they admit they can’t take care of themselves anymore, they admit at the same time that they’re getting old. There are devices like the hearing aid, who are improved a lot during their life time but some elderly refuse to wear it because it’s ugly and because of the pride of the elderly. We could try to help this device of his negative impression, but that’s not so easy. The designers have to make things for elderly so that they can help themselves, and that looks good. Design of technology devices that fit the human environment instead of forcing humans to enter theirs.

Social aspect

Technology has an serious impact on social relationships, in a positive and negative way. There are developed a lot of devices who anticipate on a major issue: that older people are lonely for example by their decreasing mobility. It  is a good idea from the designers to work on this aspect of loneliness of the elderly. The Icat and aibo were not a great success according to the elderly. It’s hard to make a robot that communicate as a human, an can answer all your questions. Mobile phones, computer, internet also improves the social contacts of the elderly with his family and friends. Some new devices go way farther than this, as an example the concept NOVICEPT. NOVICEPT is a touch screen device embodying all the technological assistance an elderly person can use in a service flat. Some features included in this system are for example being able to control the lights, make a call, do E-shopping or even use it as a remote for all the other (incomprehensible) electronic devices at home. Also some medical applications are included like taking the blood pressure or communicating with their doctor. It’s indeed a good idea to keep the elderly out of the old people’s home. So the elderly can stay as long as possible independent. But on the other side there is also a negative aspect on such a technology. For example with the E-shopping, it is really helpful but I think there are a lot of elderly who like to go out shopping, meet people on a local market. I believe this device could be very handy, but on the other side it seems to diminish the real social contacts. It’s not because people are less mobile that they can go outside with a social worker/carer, or friends. With these device you don’t have to go out, everything is delivered at home, is this really what the elderly want? I know it’s not possible for the family or social workers to be with the elderly all the time, so the technology will decrease loneliness. But there has to be a healthy balance between the two.

Medical application

When talking about technology in medical applications, most elderly had succumb to technology. It’s not that they really like it to use these technological/medical applications. For instance with the decreasing mobility, they rather give up their pride then being stuck in a room for the rest of their lives.

Conclusion

As you can read in this paper, in some applications technology is embraced by the elderly and others are off no success (although their where good designed). It’s often the pride of the elderly that hold them back of technology that could help them. Because no one is the same, some elderly are more interested in technology than others. They even like technology that didn’t facilitate their lives. So the statement could better be “Some elderly are eager to use technology (that will facilitate their lives)”.

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Final Statement

Final statement

In the last few months we discussed on the blog some technologies for the elderly; what those technologies imply for them, what the consequences are, whether we are allowed as youth to force it upon them,… and many more similar issues.  In my opinion there is yet a lot to  be discussed but as we are limited in time and space and due to the fact that this blog is probably a never ending story, I would like to make a check-up of what we have until now in this final statement. I will try to rephrase the most important statements and technologies and complete them with comments.

In this first paragraph I would like to zoom in on the need for such technologies in the daily lives of the elderly.  In the survey posted, we reached the conclusion that the elderly would only let technologies in their lives for medical applications.  In general they don’t feel the necessity to have a cell phone (although a large part of the pensioners have one) nor internet (to which only half of them have access). It is Only when the chance of a longer, happy life is in the balance, that they are interested.  This is already a first conclusion we can draw: Medical research is promising!

Another part of the discussion that was interesting to me, was the part about privacy of the elderly and whether you can monitor them in such a way that you get to know nearly everything about their activities.  This provoked an unfavourable comment, in the sense that it should not be the intention to make a “The Sims: elderly”-game out of their lives.  These useful warning mechanisms (example an alarm clock to remind them when they have to take their medication), however, can be of great help. But is there room in our society for an alarm when they leave the house? Or when they go in the bathroom? Those alarms would go to the children or grandchildren of the elderly, so the “youth” knows when they get out or where in the house they are now.  In my opinion (and in the general opinion of the blog), this is a violation of privacy. But, then I received a comment, which gave me food for thought: What if your grand father has Alzheimer’s and he leaves the house… This could lead to dangerous situations, in this respect, such an alarm is worth considering.

Another topic of value in this blog was the one about social networking when you are older.  In this age Facebook, Twitter, portable phones, MSN, Netlog and many more are widely used all over the world.  But the “problem” is, it’s mostly used by youngsters and not by older people.  There are many reason for this situation.  Young people adept faster, grow up with it, are open for new challenges… Unlike the older, who mostly feel a little more suspicious about all that appears on the Internet.  Mostly due to all the things they hear about internet crime, viruses, …the elderly are not really eager to surf the Net. This, however, will change in a couple of years, since a new generation of people is getting older and older.  This new generation has “an addiction” to the Internet and to communication. They will thus continue to use this technology. 

A fourth important topic contained the financial impact on the whole technology situation. Designing all those new features in the lives of the elderly, costs of course a lot of money.  So the question is whether they are willing to give good money for technology.  Or are we, engineers,  just inventing stuff that, however it would improve their lives, will eventually not be implied because of the high cost. The original post stated that it is mostly the case that people who are not particularly wealthy are more likely to develop a (bad) disease or become handicapped. So even if they would want to use the invented technology, they would not be in the capability of practically using it, precisely because of the insufficient funds. There were, however, comments which disagreed with this statement. There were two extra opinions. One of them made the assertion, that it is mostly retired people that lived their lives wisely and have a lot of money to spend (cf. life-time savings) and thus would be more likely to spend it if increases their comfort. (it means an easier life). The second one claimed that, even if the target group doesn’t have enough money on the bank, there are always social solutions to their problem, such as low-rent wheelchairs, low-charge hearing aids, and other opportunities for the poor.

Also the culture that we live in doesn’t support technology as a life companion.  In Europe and America robots are used in industry to make things, to “work in factories”. In Japan, (on the other side), robots are even designed to help people. They are emotionally designed and are made to act like “a person”. But, since all the bloggers lived in Europe, the opinions were divided. There were people who, like me, argued that if a robot could help you in daily life, people wouldn’t hesitate to make use of it.  On the other hand, however, there were people who preferred a human hand. That is of course a personal choice, but as we grow older, the technologies will yet improve and improve. I think robots will become more and more human, so that robots will eventually be able to replace human help (to a certain extent).

A last part of my statement I want to spend on the kind of technology that we, as youth, can give to the elderly.  It doesn’t always have to be high tech! Even with simple aids an older person can already be saved, such as for example a helpful grabbing device when they get out of the bath or a lift to get on the second floor of their house. To put it briefly: easy things that increase  the comfort in your life.

In conclusion of this statement I would like to rephrase all the previous in one nice sentence: “If we really want to help the elderly we, as engineers, have to design easy-to-use, accessible and affordable technologies which the elderly need and which fulfill primarily their medical needs.”

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Geoffrey’s Final Statement

The elderly are eager to use technology that will facilitate their lives.

Short conclusion:

The elderly of today already use technology, which doesn’t always have to be high-tech. In some cases they already have a life-depending relation with technology. They prefer technological aids to be simple in use and easy on the budget.  Contemporary elderly lack a certain technological ‘touch’. They will have to learn to use the more complicated technological aids. Exploring the capabilities of these technologies by simply experimenting, like the younger generations do, isn’t so obvious for them. But focusing only on the elderly of today will not suffice, because ‘the elderly’ aren’t a fixed constant. The general interest and technological knowledge of this target group will shift constantly. Thus, for new technological aids to be successful, developers will have to keep in mind the technological ‘touch’ of the generation they are developing for, they will have to keep it simply and as cheap as possible.

Introduction:

In this blog we investigated the statement given in the title. Technology is evolving at a high rate which seems almost unstoppable. With these technological improvements the quality of life increases and with it, the average life expectancy. The increasing amount of elderly requires more specially trained people to take care of them. These social workers and their training will cost a great deal of money to society. But a new market is starting to emerge.

Companies and scientists are researching the possibilities for technology to help the elderly in their daily lives. Some technological aids that are already in use can help to maintain social contact (e.g. a cellphone for seniors, internet), others help the less mobile to get around (e.g. electric wheelchair and stair lift). Even the most common aids like a walking cane can be viewed as technology helping the elderly. However new, more sophisticated, technology keeps popping up (e.g. exoskeletons) and the question is whether people with a respected age are willing to use it.

Conclusion

First of all, we mustn’t forget that there are already many examples of inventions with the purpose of helping the elderly (i.e. hearing aids, glasses, medicines, etc.). One of the oldest facilitators is a walking cane: a simple stick which enhances the mobility and safety during mobilization. Other technologies commonly used by the elderly are electrical transportation aids like the electric wheelchair and the stair lift. So we notice that, to some extent, the elderly aren’t reluctant at all to use this ‘technology’ as a personal aid.

But nowadays when we think about technological life facilitators, we think about high-tech gadgets. Smartphones, laptops, GPS and many more have become a part of our lives. Technological developments, also the ones designed to assist the elderly, are getting more complicated every day. The idea, for instance, to get retired people out of their social isolation by means of the internet and social networking sites isn’t that absurd. The only obstacle is the fact that the present elderly are not all able to use a personal computer, let alone the internet. Using a computer isn’t so ‘obvious’ for them as it is for the younger generations. When kids learn to work with a computer, DVD player or other programmable devices, they experiment with all the function without even bothering to read the manual. This trial and error method gives them a technological ‘feeling’. They possess a certain techno-logic. Elderly will be able to follow instructions (given in a computer course for example) and remember them ,but whenever something unfamiliar arises they won’t know what to do. Trial and error isn’t a preferred method of working for them because their fear of doing something wrong.

A normal trend would be that together with this increasing complexity, the price will rise. However, we must pay attention to the fact that the elderly are not prepared to spend a great deal of money. We must remind ourselves that if we want to help the elderly in their daily lives, our solutions don’t always have to be sophisticated and complex. Simple constructions, like a handle next to the bathtub, can aid the persons getting in and out the tub in a safe manner. And the simpler the facilitator, the lower the price will be.

On the other hand we have to remember that the older generation isn’t a fixed constant. People enjoying their retirement today are people who didn’t have a computer when they were growing up. Some didn’t even have a television set until they were a teenager. The technological expansion started when they were young adults. Things like a microwave were high-tech devices those days.

For example: mobile phone technology is rather young. The first hand held mobile phone call was performed in 1973. By the time a full working mobile communication network was installed, it was already 10 years later. After that, commercial mobile phones emerged and it was only in the 90’s that suddenly almost everybody owned one. This example illustrates that by the time this technology was commercialized, the people who are now our elderly were a bit too old to be dragged into this technological explosion. People who grew up with this technology (mobile phones, programmable VCR- or DVD-players) have a head start.

When the younger generation of today hits a respectable age, they will have generated a technological feeling. When growing up with a cellphone and a personal laptop from the age of 12 on, learning to work with new types of technology when at an older age will take less effort. Also, when developing new ways of technological aids, we can develop them in such a way that no new skills have to be learned. Mapping what the average person is capable of, regarding technology, engineers can design their devices/services to meet these skills. Simplicity is key.

So only focusing on the elderly of today as a market group will not be sufficient. This sub group should be examined constantly, recording the evolution in its wishes and needs and using this information to develop group specific solutions.

Another important factor to keep in mind is what the elderly really want. We often focus too much on what we think they need. The iCat is a great example of this fact. In the efforts to reduce the chance of elderly slipping into a state of social isolation, some researchers came up with a robot shaped like a cat. The idea was to develop a conversation partner for the elderly who could keep an eye on them. A gentle voice would tell the patient to take his medicines or would ask which kind of music he’d like to hear. From a technological point of view it was a great piece of  high-tech engineering, completed with speech recognition. But when they tested the prototype in practice, many problems occurred. The iCat couldn’t understand the patient and vice versa, leading to awkward silences or agitation. Sometimes it would misunderstand the person and perform a task that was never asked.

The researchers linked social contact to verbal communication. Other concepts showed that this link isn’t always necessary. Aibo, for example, is a pet robot dog which acts as a real pet animal, so without ‘talking human’. It can bark, walk, sit, play and even feel sick. As the person takes care of him, he creates his own character. He can become a playful dog, a sweet dog who likes cuddle (he has sensor able to pick up when it’s being touched) and even a dog who enjoys braking the occasional piece of porcelain. Results showed that the elderly forgot that they were playing with and even talking to a robot after a while. They really enjoyed the company and the character Aibo developed, resulting in a happier life with their companions.

In the future it will become possible to use more sophisticated technology to aid the older generations, because of the growing technological ‘touch’ of the elderly. One think that won’t change, in my opinion, is the pride and dignity of these individuals. When we look at the evolution of independence of an individual, we notice it’s a parabola. In the beginning of a human life, the parents do everything for the child. The older it gets, the more independent it becomes and wants to be. So the independence of the child grows until adulthood, where the grow rate decreases until a maximum level of independence is reached. The individuals stay at that maximum, but at a certain point in time, at a certain age, their level of independence will start to decrease again. For the person this becomes troublesome and he/she wants to maintain their previous level of independence. Not being able to take care of the daily hygienic tasks can be humiliating.

This shows that maybe it’s better to focus more on how we can let the elderly help themselves. By designing simple devices that allow those persons to regain their self-support we are helping them as well. However, we must again keep in mind that some help from social workers or nurses is more than just medical care. Nurses who provide services at home will have an extra social value. The elderly enjoy the company after being alone for some time. They enjoy the daily or weekly chat. If we were to replace this valuable persons by a piece of technology, we may be responsible for  a further decrease in social contact of the patient.

There already exist some technological features which monitor a patient vitals and automatically sends this information to the hospital, where a computer program compares the data with previous measurements. When some irregularities occur, the patient’s physician will be contacted and (s)he will go visit the patient. This is a great piece of technology which has saved already many lives. It also helps the doctors because nowadays they have so much patients they can’t keep up with the visits. But still, a visit from the doctor is more than just a checkup, it’s an opportunity for the elderly to talk to somebody, to have some social contact. However the greatness of the above mentioned technology, we must make sure  regular social contact is maintained.

There are a lot of factors to keep in mind when developing life aids. It will be a challenge to get rid of ‘over the wall engineering’ and investigate what the real wishes and needs are and what the implications of our technological developments will be.

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Economic orientation

Time for part two of the addition to this post. In the meantime, Joke has already talked about the economic impact of technology on the elderly, from their point of view. In this post, I’ll represent the producer and how they experience the senior citizens as a marketplace segment. This post will be loosely based upon a study performed by James R. Lumpkin (1), with some of my own assumptions added to the mix.

Producers are still struggling to economically segment the elderly population in a suitable way. There are multiple types of personalities (the early adapter, the cautious consumer, …), yet most of the senior citizens differ from their younger counterparts. I’ll focus on these general differences rather then lose myself in an avalanche of terms and semantics, but be aware that people of a respectable age aren’t as easy to group together as it appears.
In general, Lumpkin concludes that there’s one big macro-economic divide between elderly and youth. Most products are developed and marketed to satisfy a need that wasn’t there before the product appeared. The easiest example of this is electricity. Before it was commercialized, people got around just fine. Nowadays, if you live without it, you’re considered to be below the minimal economic limit (as in: poverty). The elderly however don’t respond very well to this type of economic thinking. In other words, they (mostly) respond to a need they already had beforehand. This rigidity has a few possible causes, which I’ll discuss below.
A) Senior citizens are proud of their independence. They survived just fine before, they don’t need new technology now.
B) They’re insecure and posses a natural fear of change. This is most prevalent in concurrent products, where marketing studies observe a remarkable brand-loyalty in older citizens.
C) They just don’t know about the product as they’re not as acute to news and commercials as they used to be.
D) Elderly don’t recognize the ‘value’ of new products and thus ignore them.
The loyal reader of this blog will recognize a lot of themes that have been discussed before. It’s hard to encourage people of a respectable age to try out new things. Insecurity and fear are often the demotivators, however sometimes the elderly just have a strong sense of independence (and the fear of losing it). These emotions cause a social and economic divide between age categories, as well as impact other regions of society. For instance, older employees are often more rigid and less prone to change.
This cautiousness is however not necessarily a bad thing. When you think about it, who’s the irrational person? The one who refuses to buy a new product or the one that believes this new development is something he/she has been sorely lacking (even though it often isn’t the case)?

References:
(1) J. R. Lumpkin, Shopping orientation segmentation of the elderly consumer , Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Volume 13, Numbers 1-2, p. 271-289

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technological dependency among elders

As we are discussing how elderly look upon technology, we are forgetting one simple fact: that the elderly are already using lots of technology.  And on top of that, they are much more dependent on the technology they are using. Going even further their life often depends on these technologies. Take for example a peace-maker which is of vital importance and whitch you are more likely to find with an older person. Another device that will not go as far as ending the life of the owner when malfunctioning, but nevertheless rendering him incapacitated is a hearing aid or glasses to give two examples . But even drugs can be seen as technology, and few people who have reached a certain age aren’t depended on one or more pill’s or shot’s of insulin each day. As you can see, where technology is mostly a bonus for younger people it is often a necessity for the older of age. And thus we should be weary not to make our senior citizens too ‘addicted to technology’. Take for instance the case of a relative of mine. She lived in with an older lady, who, after some time, wasn’t able to go up and down the stairs herself. A stairs lift was promptly installed (the type of chair that automatically goes up a stairs on rails). But it was not dismissed after the elder lady died many years later. Instead, the relative used it to go up and down the stairs although being perfectly capable of doing so herself. And by always taking the elevator she got so unused at taking those stairs that after a while she hust wouldn’t dare take it.

A less serious example is this article where a the habitants of a home in England got sort of addicted to the WII console.

To conlude this post: saying that the elderly are eager to use technology that will facilitate their lives may be an understatement as this technology is often life-depending for them.

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