Older Adults and Diffusion of Assistive Web-Base Technologies

Older Adults and Diffusion of Assistive Web-Base Technologies

Senaka Fernando (Brunel University, UK), Arthur Money (Brunel University, UK), Tony Elliman (Brunel University, UK) and Lorna Lines (Brunel University, UK)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/jitr.2010010101
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Abstract

Recent surveys show that the number of people over the age of 65 is increasing worldwide and there is a considerable discussion about the scope of improving the older adults’ autonomy and independence, using recent developments in information technology. One of such development is web services and it is rapidly becoming a major means of accessing healthcare in the community and many government services for the older adults. However several researchers argue that age-related cognitive impairments have a detrimental effect on use of such web services by older adults. However, little and systematic applied research has been conducted on how age related cognitive impairments might affect the usage of web services by older adults. Undoubtedly, understanding the relationship between the cognitive changes that accompany aging and their impact on older adults’ usage of web services will be beneficial for designing web services for this group. The article demonstrates how such understanding has been employed to develop an assistive technology to improve older adults’ interaction with online forms (e.g. state benefit application form). However, the article acknowledges that this new assistive technology does not guarantee that people with age-related cognitive impairments accept it, as diffusion of innovation research shows that getting a new technology adopted, even when it has noticeable advantage, is often very difficult. Consequently, the article identifies critical factors that need to be considered when adopting this new assistive technology, drawing on Rogers’s theory of Diffusion of Innovations.
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1 Introduction

Recent surveys show that the number of people over the age of 65 is increasing worldwide. For example by 2030, the percentage of people over the age 65 in Europe will be about 24% of the total population (Kinsella, 2001). However research indicates that the growing numbers of these older adults are living in their homes with limitations in mobility, dexterity, and cognitive ability (Grundy, 2003). Currently there is considerable discussion about the scope of improving the older adults’ autonomy and independence that is restricted by age related impairments, using recent developments in information technology (McMellon & Schiffman, 2002). One of such development is web services and it is rapidly becoming a major means of accessing health, care in the community and many government services for the older adults (Morrel et al., 2000). The web services are also becoming a vehicle for older adults in engaging activities such as employment and educational opportunities (Czaja & Lee, 2007). However the older adults use web services less often and have less experience with them than younger adults. For example the recent surveys show that web service users among those 16-24 years of age are three times higher than among adults 55-74 years of age (see Czaja & Lee, 2007).

Although there are many reasons for the lack of use of web services by older adults, one major reason noted in the literate is the age related impairments which hinder the visual, auditory, motor and cognitive abilities of older adults (Czaja & Lee, 2008). The research indicates that such impairments have detrimental affect on use of web services by older adults. Many researchers and practitioners made attempt to address the implications of age related visual, auditory and motor impairments that have impact on information technology based systems and developed technology to minimise the negative impact of such impairments on usage of such systems by older adults(see Smith et al., 1999; Fisk et al., 2004). However, little research has been conducted on how age related cognitive impairment might affect the usage of information technology based systems such as web services(see Czaja et al., 2006). Consequently, this article focuses on age-related cognitive impairments.

Many studies demonstrate that cognitive abilities of individuals decline with age (Ardila et al., 2000; Saczynski & Rebok, 2004; Craik & Bialystok, 2006; Boutet et al., 2007; Czaja & Lee, 2008).

With reference to the age related cognitive impairments the article discusses the implications of impairments in working memory, spatial cognition, attention and perceptual speed on usage of web services by older adults (see Park, 1992; Morrel et al., 2000; Boutet et al., 2007; Newell et al., 2008). These impairments are briefly discussed below:

Working Memory

Working memory is usually conceptualized as “the temporary storage of information that is necessary for such activities as learning, reasoning, and comprehension” (Bradeley, 1986). The usual tasks carried out by working memory are those in which the individual must hold a small amount of material in mind for a short period of time while at the same time performing further cognitive operations (e.g. comprehension), either on the material held or on other incoming materials (Morris et al., 1990). The decline of working memory holds a number of implications for the use of web services/applications by older adults. For example older adults can have difficulties in (1) understanding instructions in an online form (2) performing a large number of steps in an online transaction.

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