My mum was 75 years old when she used a computer for the first time in her entire life. I was moving overseas and wanted to stay in touch with her via Skype. So I bought her an iPad. Within 24 hours, my mum sent me an email to say thank you for the present. A few weeks later, she downloaded a few apps on her tablet on her own, such as the national newspaper, a recipe blog, the weather forecast, the public transport timetable and a daily motivational quote – and then she taught me how to navigate the tablet more efficiently. I was gobsmacked – and a little bit ashamed: I realised that I had fell into the trap of age bias. I simply assumed it would take mum ages to use the iPad and even then, only the tools I have shown her.
Mum literally proved that age has nothing to do with the capability of using technology. All it takes is time to educate the person, a simple tool or interface and a good reason to learn it.
We know the facts: Australia’s population is ageing and the number of people aged 65 and over in Australia is projected to more than double, to 8.8 million, over the next 40 years. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, older Australians (aged 65 and over) want to remain in their own homes and only 5 per cent of older Australians live in carer accommodation (like nursing homes). However, with this comes the risk of social isolation and often, elderly citizens are becoming increasingly marginalised. Beyondblue reckons that 10-15 per cent of older people experience depression and interestingly, the rates amongst people in residential aged care is believed to be around 35 per cent. Adoption of technology can be the solution.
Technology does not only support seniors to live at home longer and to stay independent but also has the capability to increase mental well being. A recent Australian study proved that the use of information and communication technology contributes positively to the wellbeing of the elderly. For example, in terms of self-esteem and personal development, productivity, self-sufficiency or enjoyment.
Technology-enabled devices and systems have been researched, advanced and introduced to provide solutions to the ageing population. However, the focus is often on aged care providers to become more effective and efficient – which is very important and not disputed. What often gets an afterthought only, however, is the adaption of technology amongst the elderly citizen. And this rate is very low.
Insufficient understanding and stereotyping (I’m guilty) of the elderly’s expectations, needs and lifestyles are often the main factors, not to mention the age gap between researchers and end-users. Co-designing solutions is not happening. The Technology Roadmap for the Australian Aged Care Sector points out the importance to link end users with developers of technology, in order to support co-design and co-evaluation.
In 2015, a study in the US was conducted to “provide a base for a more comprehensive understanding of older adults as users and consumers of technology.” The research concluded older adults’ adoption of technology is not a purely technical topic, but a rather complex issue with multiple aspects. They identified 10 factors that influence older adults’ perceptions and decisions around adoption and use of technology, these were:
The ten factors incorporated physical design (e.g functional features, friendliness), individual settings (e.g. experience, affordability) but also social settings (e.g. social support and independence) and delivery channels.
It makes sense that not only considering but also applying these 10 factors will make technology more appealing and usable for elderly people.
As for my mum, she stopped using Skype and switched to WhatsApp video calls before I even thought about doing that.