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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)”.