Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities of Smart Mobile Devices among the Oldest Old

Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities of Smart Mobile Devices among the Oldest Old

Anne Marie Piper (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA), Raymundo Cornejo Garcia (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA) and Robin N. Brewer (Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJMHCI.2016040105


While smart mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablet computers, and e-readers, are becoming more common among older populations, little is known about the user experience of this technology for older adults in naturalistic settings or how this demographic sustains use of these devices over time. To understand this, the research team conducted 18 months of contextual inquiry within two computer rooms at one senior residential facility and semi-structured interviews with 28 older adults (age 80+) within the same community. The analysis examines older adults' experiences around adoption and usage of smart mobile devices, the challenges presented by these devices as a platform for communication, and the nuances of maintaining these devices over time in the context of late-life disability. The paper concludes with a discussion of design considerations for future work aimed at improving the user experience of smart mobile devices for older adults.
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Increasing numbers of older adults are using smart mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablet computers, and e-readers, opening up new possibilities for staying connected and going online in the later stages of life. In this article, we use the term smart mobile devices to refer to the broader class of smartphones, tablet computers, and e-readers equipped with online capabilities and often, but not always, controlled through a touchscreen. Smart mobile devices are often touted as a viable platform for supporting a range of online activities for older adults, including new applications for staying connected with one’s social network, accessing information, and monitoring and promoting late-life health and wellness (e.g., Beacker et al., 2014; Tacconi, Mellone, & Chiari, 2011; Dai et al., 2010). Understanding how smart technologies can promote greater independence in older adulthood is an important topic in human-computer interaction research (Demiris et al., 2004; Lee, 2014), particularly among older segments of the population who stand the greatest risk for social isolation and have higher incident rates of chronic health conditions and associated disability (Cornwell & Waite, 2009). However, limited work has examined the user experience of or practical issues associated with older adults adopting, learning, and using smart mobile devices over time in a naturalistic context. This article presents a qualitative study describing the challenges presented by and opportunities afforded by modern commercially available smart mobile devices for older adults focusing on individuals age 80 and older in an assisted and independent living facility.

Prior work examines how older adults learn to use information and communication technology (ICT) over time (Sayago, Forbes, & Blat, 2013) but does not detail the longer-term practical challenges of smart mobile devices. Recent work has examined older adults’ attitudes towards adopting mobile devices, primarily focusing on feature phones, as well as older adults’ challenges and preferences in learning to use these devices (Kurniawan, 2006, 2008; Leung et al., 2012; Massimi, Baecker, & Wu, 2007). However, limited work has examined older adults learning to use smart mobile devices outside of a laboratory setting (e.g., Leung et al., 2012) largely because older adults are only now beginning to adopt and use these devices. In the United States, for example, only 18% of older adults (age 65+) own a smartphone, with a staggering 5% of older adults aged 80+ owning smartphones (Smith, 2014). With smart mobile devices envisioned as a pervasive platform for developing new applications and online tools for older adults, it is critical that we understand the day-to-day challenges older adults face in using and maintaining such technology.

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