Changing the conversation: Seniors and technology

December 3, 2018
Contact: Laurel Thomas ltgnagey@umich.edu

We laugh at the meme—even those of us over a certain age—of the toddler, hand pressed over his eyes in utter frustration, telling grandma for the umpteenth time how to open a browser on her computer. Or the photo of the older couple staring at a cell phone, with him asking her to make sure to take two pictures so he can have one as well.

Stereotypes to be sure, and not necessarily accurate, says a University of Michigan School of Information researcher.

Technology isn’t necessarily befuddling for older adults in and of itself, says Robin Brewer, SI presidential postdoctoral fellow. Most of the challenges are because of changes in abilities that make traditional devices and systems tougher for them to use, so Brewer wants to alter our way of thinking about older adults and technology.

“Rather than designing for disability and decline in older adulthood,” she writes that “shifting the focus towards designing for late-life development may help prevent reinforcement of these stereotypes and begin to empower the individuals we aim to engage with the new systems we introduce.”

Her research focuses on how to leverage technology, some of it pretty inexpensive, to engage older adults online. For example, if worsening vision is a concern perhaps voice assisted technology is an answer. It doesn’t have to be an Alexa either, Brewer says. An everyday home phone can be used for some of the voice interface technology.