While more older adults than ever are using cell phones and computers, a technology gap still exists that threatens to turn senior citizens into second-class citizens, according to Florida State University researchers.
Neil Charness, the William G. Chase Professor of Psychology, and Walter R. Boot, an assistant professor of psychology, found that both the attitudes and abilities of older adults pose barriers to adopting new forms of technology and urged designers to consider those barriers when developing new products. Charness and Boot will publish a review of the research on the topic in Current Directions in Psychological Science.
“The technology gap is a problem because technology, particularly computer and Internet technology, is becoming ubiquitous, and full participation in society becomes more difficult for those without such access,” said Charness, who along with Boot received a $1.5 million, five-year subcontract from a National Institute of Aging grant to support the Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE). Established a decade ago, the center is comprised of researchers at FSU, the University of Miami and the Georgia Institute of Technology, who study ways to increase technology use in order to promote cognition and health in older Americans.
From booking airline tickets to seeking health care information, almost everything is easier, cheaper or faster online. Older adults who may be less mobile in particular stand to benefit from innovations such as online banking. But there is a sharp decline in Internet use after age 65, the researchers said, citing a 2007 Pew Tracking Survey that showed 85 percent of adults in 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44 age groups used the Internet. By contrast, only 39 percent of adults between 65 and 74, and 24 percent of adults between 75 and 84 were Internet users.
Declining cognitive processes, decreased memory capacity and difficulty maintaining attention — all part of the normal aging process — can make it difficult for seniors to learn new skills. In fact, Charness said, it takes older adults roughly twice as long as younger people to learn a new word processor under self-paced learning conditions. That’s true even for older adults who have prior experience with another word processor.
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