USC Gerontology



Designing Technology for the Aging Population

While many older Americans use technology, it’s rarely designed with them in mind. Discover what people are predicting about the adoption of technology by Americans over age 65, barriers to usage, and strategies to engage seniors with technology.

To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by University of Southern California’s Master of Arts in Gerontology (MAG) & Master of Aging Services Management (MASM) online program.

Technology for the Elderly

Seniors’ Love for New Technologies

There are around 48 million individuals age 65 years and older living in the United States. Of these, more than half own and use a desktop or laptop, while a third prefer using tablets. Eight out of ten regularly use a smartphone.

Traditionally, it’s been said that seniors struggle to adapt to new technologies. Yet today, six out of every ten use the Internet. Seventy percent of all senior citizens access the Internet on a daily basis, while a staggering 80 percent use social media to interact with friends, relatives and family members. The extent to which individuals older than 65 years old have adapted to new technologies is extraordinary.

Seniors have adopted new technologies to such an extent that close to 80 percent in the U.S. feel that lack of access to the Internet is a significant disadvantage. More than nine out of every ten seniors acknowledge that the Web has made it easier for them to search for information, while more than 80 percent of seniors feel the ubiquitous smartphone is a great tool that provides them freedom in their old age.

There is a direct correlation between education, income levels and the adoption of new technology. Eighty-seven percent of senior citizens who possess a college degree are comfortable using technology. This figure falls to less than 70 percent for those who have merely attended college. Senior citizens with less than a high school degree readily adopt technology at just a 40 percent rate.

Similarly, 86 percent of seniors residing in households with an annual income between $50,000 and $75,000 have adopted modern technology. Among those earning more than $30,000 but less than $50,000, the adoption rate is 63 percent. This figure falls to less than 40 percent for members of households earning less than $30,000 per year. This indicates that seniors who can afford devices like smartphones, tablets and computers are very comfortable using them.

Barriers and Obstacles to Adoption of High Technology

While the majority of senior citizens are enthusiastic about new technologies, this does not mean they enjoy a smooth experience at all times. There are significant obstacles that seniors face as far as continuous usage of technology is concerned.

80 percent of all senior Americans suffer from one or multiple chronic conditions. This has a natural impact on their use of technology, especially if it has been designed with young users in mind and/or to boost health and fitness.

Another technology issue for seniors is ease of use, especially when learning to navigate a new device. More than 80 percent of all senior citizens indicated discomfort or other issues related to learning how to use a new device. Further, more than half of aged Americans indicated that they would require assistance in accessing social media sites on their smartphone, tablet or computer.

Seniors and Technology — Implications for the Future

Health startups operating in the digital field received funding in excess of $6 billion in 2015. More than 60 percent of that funding was for companies engaged in providing health care products and services designed for people aged 50 years and above.

In addition, as America ages, designers will also have to consider the sheer number of senior citizens in the country. By 2050, there will be more than 92 million individuals above the age of 65 years in the United States. Hence, obstacles and barriers that impact the technological experience of senior citizens will have to be identified, analyzed, and addressed as early as possible in the product development process.

Features of Senior-Friendly Technologies

With old age, there is natural weakening of the body’s systems, including vision and related eyesight complications. In the future, for devices to be senior-friendly, they must offer features like adjustable font sizes, minimum font size of at least 16 pixels and adjustable contrast ratios. These advantages will help seniors customize the visual experience per their individual preferences.

Also with old age usually comes a degradation of fine motor skills. Holding a device firmly in the hand and tapping a specific part of the screen may seem very easy. However, this may not be the case for an aged user.

Devices and technologies must offer large buttons that don’t require clicks or taps on precise areas of the screen. Designers of computers and tablets should consider using an entire selection button as a hyperlink, instead of attaching the link to the text alone.

Further, users should be able to navigate the device with as few clicks or gestures as possible. To facilitate easier navigation and use, aged individuals should have the option of configuring the device to accept a single click as a double-click where necessary.

Memory and cognitive difficulties usually afflict senior citizens at a higher rate than the rest of the population. This can impact their technology experience because often they must switch between multiple screens to use a device. Setting up a social media profile, for instance, by entering a username, password, personal details and other information on four different screens can be confusing for an individual facing memory problems.

Designers must ensure the user experience involves tapping through as few screens as possible. One solution is to have essential information placed at the top of the screen and remain there at all times.

Continuous technology usage by seniors can be further simplified if designers choose to introduce new features and upgrades in a slow and steady manner. This will help save older users from having to learn new ways to use the same device after every software upgrade.

Future Technologies — Beyond Social Media

In the future, technology can go beyond helping senior citizens stay in touch with their friends and family through social media. Devices and applications can help aged individuals maintain their health, manage diseases and conditions, track treatments and in general, lead a healthier lifestyle.

Such devices can include smart pill boxes for dispensing medications, continuous tracking of health using automatic medical alerts, solutions that detect falls and other injuries in individuals who live alone, and solutions for remote monitoring of vital conditions on a real-time basis.

Apart from health, new devices and smartphones can help older individuals enjoy a higher degree of safety, even when living independently. Such technologies can include devices and solutions that function as a personal emergency response system, security systems like motion detectors, smart home security solutions, smart customizable doorbells and video door bells, keyless entry systems and beyond.

Other lifestyle devices can include smart thermostats that anticipate temperature changes and alter the settings to ensure the home remains comfortable at all times.

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