IT Impacts on Quality of Life for Seniors

It is obvious that healthcare information, social interaction, participation in government, lifelong learning (i.e. education) programs, and other areas would all contribute to improving people’s lives, especially (but not limited to) their advancing years.  Appropriate interface design, ways to reduce computer anxiety while increasing self efficacy, comfort and knowledge are key to successful integration of our senior citizens into the digital mainstream.

Keeping in touch.

Seniors may suffer from a lack of social interaction due to a variety of factors.  Friends and family members pass away, relocate to retirement centers or assisted-living facilities, or move in with family.  Feelings of isolation and loneliness are a natural byproduct of such life-changing events.  Fortunately, through regular e-mail, as well as the explosion of social networks online (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), seniors can remain in contact with loved ones and interact in the mainstream.  “According to the data from Facebook there a combined ~28 million people over the age of 45 active on Facebook. These are impressive user numbers from an older demographic that continue to grow. It’s important to note that the 55-64 age group is almost the size of the 13-17 group, further evidence that Facebook isn’t limited to “young” people.” (Social Media Today – Facebook Demographics Revisited – 2011 Statistics – March 2011).

“For Canadian seniors with large and dispersed extended families, email may represent an efficient means of keeping in touch. Previous research has found that email users aged 65 and older were more likely to use email to communicate with relatives than all other users. Many seniors feel that it has improved their family connections, and they communicate more frequently with relatives when email is available.”  (Online activities of Canadian boomers and seniors – Ben Veenhof and Peter Timusk – Statistics Canada 11-008-X No. 88 2009002).

Having fun.

In addition, computers can be used in a standalone basis to play video games such as solo basics like Solitaire or online with other players.  Such interaction promotes engagement and feelings of self-worth.  “Playing games on the Internet was the second-most popular leisure activity among seniors who used the Internet from home in 2007. In fact, seniors were more likely than boomers to do so (36% versus 27%), most likely because they have more leisure time” (Online activities of Canadian boomers and seniors – Ben Veenhof and Peter Timusk – Statistics Canada 11-008-X No. 88 2009002).

Yet, if senior citizens are apprehensive about computers in general or have reservations about their ability to use them, they will not be able to participate in the social interaction arena.  They will be missing out on bountiful opportunities to share memories (and create new ones) with others.

Government information.

“About one-third (an estimated 8.2 million) of adult Canadians accessed government information and services online in 2005, making the Internet an important channel for governments, according to a new study in the Connectedness Series… The most common reasons reported for connecting online with governments were searching for information (72%), accessing material on programs or services (60%), and downloading forms (50%). About one-quarter of users reported submitting a completed form, such as their income taxes, online.” (The Daily – Statistics Canada – November 2007)

Healthcare.

The use of IT in healthcare is another very broad category that is directly related to quality of life, including home health situations where the patients monitor themselves.  For many seniors the personal computer and the internet become useful tools for locating health information. “More than half of seniors who use the Internet searched for health information online.” (Online activities of Canadian boomers and seniors – Ben Veenhof and Peter Timusk – Statistics Canada 11-008-X No. 88 2009002). There is potential of technologies to assist with older people’s aging, or ability to function and live independently.

Computers can make life better.

Knowledge of current events, government programs, health options, retirement planning and opportunities for self-improvement are only a few of the advantages to continual education.  Furthermore, whether retired or not, continuing education has many positive benefits including keeping the mind sharp, social interaction, and learning new things in general. Once that fear and resistance to online learning technology is overcome and familiarity is enhanced, a door opens for the elderly to new worlds of discovery, interaction, and overall quality of life.   “Just over one-quarter (26%) of adult Canadians, an estimated 6.4 million people, logged on to the Internet for the purposes of education, training or school work during 2005… Just over one-quarter (26%) of those who used the Internet for education-related purposes went online for distance education, self-directed learning or correspondence courses.”  (The Daily – Statistics Canada – October 2007)

Tangential benefits of increased online usage include better environmental sustainability (i.e., being more “green” by utilizing less traditional resources such as paper and ink), increased participation in community events and affairs by being up-to-date on the issues of the day, and increased feelings of self-worth by being a valuable and still-contributing member of society.

The IT community can and should do more to infuse IT into the lives of our seniors, and tailor more IT support options, products and software to this population.  The senior demographic tends to benefit most from hands-on instruction tailored to the individual.“Learning styles may be placed on a continuum that extends form discovery learning (e.g., learning by doing) to reception learning (e.g., learning by seeing). Learning styles are known to vary across contexts and tasks, as well as across individual-difference variables such as age (Ayersman & von Minden, 1995). In novel situations, older adults tend to adopt a reception style of learning whereas young adults tend to opt for a discovery style. Consistent with their preferred learning style, in a recent digital camera usability study, we found that young adults did not request any help even after making up to 30 errors on a task, whereas older adults did not even commence this task without guidance.” (Technology Usability Across the Adult Lifespan – Graf, Li, McGrenere – Department of Psychology UBC – 2005).