Category Archives: aging

Nonagenarian designs for aging and inspires younger designers

Barbara Beskind, 90, is a designer at IDEO who works with engineers on products that improve the quality of life for older people. Nicolas Zurcher/Courtesy of IDEO
Barbara Beskind, 90, is a designer at IDEO who works with engineers on products that improve the quality of life for older people.
Nicolas Zurcher/Courtesy of IDEO

NPR published a great story on Barbara Beskind, a product and interface designer in her early nineties.

My favorite excerpt:

Gretchen Addi, an associate partner at IDEO, hired Beskind. Addi says when Beskind is in a room, young designers do think differently. For example, Addi says IDEO is working with a Japanese company on glasses to replace bifocals. With a simple hand gesture, the glasses will turn from the farsighted prescription to the nearsighted one.

Initially, the designers wanted to put small changeable batteries in the new glasses. Beskind pointed out to them that old fingers are not that nimble.

“It really caused the design team to reflect,” Addi says. They realized they could design the glasses in a way that avoided the battery problem. “Maybe it’s just a USB connection. Are there ways that we can think about this differently?”

There are several wonderful take-home messages:

  • Creative and fulfilling work can extend late into the lifetime
  • Aging does not just bring limitations, it also extends perspective and wisdom
  • Designing for aging is doesn’t detract from a product but can enhance it for people of all ages
  • Having a person with such perspective on a design team changes the perspective and thoughts of the rest of the team, the core tenant of participatory design

Radio interview with Rich

Our own Rich Pak was interviewed by the Clemson radio show “Your Day.”

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They cover everything from the birth of human factors psychology to the design of prospective memory aids for older adults. Enjoy!

Anne & Rich Interviewed about Human Factors

Anne and I are big proponents of making sure the world knows what human factors is all about (hence the blog).  Both of us were recently interviewed separately about human factors in general as well as our research areas.

The tone is very general and may give lay people a good sense of the breadth of human factors.  Plus, you can hear how we sound!

First, Anne was just interviewed for the radio show “Radio In Vivo“.

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Late last year, I was interviewed about human factors and my research on the local public radio program Your Day:

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What’s Good About Growing Old

In our book (link to introduction), we reviewed some of the research in cognitive aging that essentially shows that aging is associated with declines in some abilities but increases in others.

For example, although a sixty year old man may not be able to beat his granddaughter in the computer puzzle game Tetris, the elder will invariably beat the youth in games of knowledge such as the board game Trivial Pursuit or the television quiz show Jeopardy.  Design of displays and technology can capitalize on these capabilities to ameliorate the limitations that can come with age.

This very short article in the Smithsonian reviews a few new research studies that show that aging is associated with more nuanced, perhaps better, emotional decision making.  It’s nice to see mainstream coverage of cognitive aging research especially when it conveys the complexity of the aging process.

People also learn how to deal with social conflicts more effectively. For a 2010 study, researchers at the University of Michigan presented “Dear Abby” letters to 200 people and asked what advice they would give. Subjects in their 60s were better than younger ones at imagining different points of view, thinking of multiple resolutions and suggesting compromises.

One of the leaders in that area of aging and social cognition was Dr. Fredda Blanchard-Fields (my undergraduate mentor).  She was a contemporary of Dr. Carstensen (cited in the article) who studied social cognition and aging in great depth.

A little “inside baseball” story:  In one of my earliest publications (in 2001 when I was an undergraduate student and before I discovered human factors), we found that contrary to stereotypes, being older did not automatically equate to having “traditional family values” (i’m greatly simplifying):

Findings provide little support for common stereotypes regarding age and gender differences in traditionalism. Instead, 3 individual-differences variables predicted traditional family values: need for closure, religiosity, and verbal ability. Outcomes argue for the need to identify multiple mechanisms by which personal characteristics such as need for closure and religiosity influence traditionalism in social belief systems and argue against reliance on status variables such as age and gender as explanatory variables for these beliefs.

Blanchard-Fields, F., Hertzog, C., Stein, R., and Pak, R. (2001). Beyond stereotyped predictors of traditional family values. Psychology and Aging, 16(3), 483-496.

Right before the paper went to press, we were girding ourselves for a backlash from more conservative elements of the media.  Thankfully, there wasn’t a peep!

Pilots forget to lower landing gear after cell phone distraction

This is back from May, but it’s worth noting. A news story chock-full of the little events that can add up to disaster!

From the article:

Confused Jetstar pilots forgot to lower the wheels and had to abort a landing in Singapore just 150 metres above the ground, after the captain became distracted by his mobile phone, an investigation has found.

Major points:

  • Pilot forgets to turn off cell phone and receives distracting messages prior to landing.
  • Co-pilot is fatigued.
  •  They do not communicate with each other before taking action.
  •  Another distracting error occurred involving the flap settings on the wings.
  • They do not use the landing checklist.

I was most surprised by that last point – I didn’t know that was optional! Any pilots out there want to weigh in on how frequently checklists are skipped entirely?

 

 

Photo credit slasher-fun @ Flickr

Lack of human factors = more of your tax dollars at “work”

I live in Raleigh, NC. Our area code has always been a little problematic for the nationwide 911 emergency system – it is 919. But at least until now, dialing the 919 for a local call was optional. Looks like we’re finally big enough for ten digit dialing and we can expect to pay the price in our public safety system.  Check out this email from the Director of Emergency Communications, particularly the part about dispatching officers every 7.5 minutes to investigate hang-ups:

I am sure by now that you have seen or heard about some of the impact that the new 10 digit dialing requirement has made upon our 9-1-1 center. Unfortunately, we are almost three weeks downstream from this implementation, and are seeing few signs of improvement.

Neither the 9-1-1 center, the city, or the local telephone carriers are responsible for selecting area codes. They are distributed according to a national plan. “Overlays” are added when a region begins to run out of numbers in their original pool; in this case 9-1-9. Unfortunately, with the similarity between 9-1-9 and 9-1-1, our agency has seen this issue in the past, as some of our citizens have utilized 10 digit dialing for some time. The current impact on our staff – and on law enforcement – is that on our peak days we are dispatching officers to investigate hang up calls once every seven and a half minutes. Of course, this is a daily average, meaning that at peak times the impact is even more severe. Plus, we only dispatch calls that we can’t resolve another way. Many people who misdial don’t realize they have until we answer. Others hang-up, but answer when we call them back. In such cases sending an officer is not required, so the total number of calls we receive in error far exceeds those dispatched.

As Director of Emergency Communications, I am asking for your help. We have identified that a majority of such calls come from either senior citizens or business telephones. In the first case, confusion over the proper procedures seems to be the norm.  After 40 years, folks now have to dial 10 digits just to talk to their neighbor. We’ve had callers tell us they thought they had to now dial 9-1-1 before calling in our area, and others ask if they needed to dial 9-1-9 before they called 9-1-1. If you have an elderly friend, relative, or neighbor, I’d like to personally ask you to take the time to make sure they understand to carefully dial “9-1-9” when required. I believe that with some patience and understanding we can make significant inroads.

With regard to business telephones, the issue is a little more complex, and may in some cases even involve the need to dial “9” to get an outside line, followed by the unnecessary “1” before dialing the area code. Whatever the reason, it really boils down to just taking a few extra seconds to make sure of the numbers you’re dialing. Whether you work at a local business, or own one, can I please also count on you to assure that your co-workers use due care when calling? This is a very serious issue and takes resources away from dealing with actual emergencies.

So, to summarize:

  • There is a lack of understanding when to use 10-digit dialing.
  • Being “careful” is not going to fix this problem.
  • The added traditions for businesses to dial “9” to get out adds to the problem (NC State moved to a dial “7” system, presumably for this reason).
  • Those with a lifetime of 7-digit experience, and presumably the least likely to have numbers pre-programmed into a cell phone, make the most errors.

The issues here are fascinating, yet predictable. I don’t know if there is a perfect answer, since changing the long-term ill-chosen area code would be confusing (although my home town in Alabama has gone through 3 such changes in the last couple of decades – from 205 to 334 to 251!). But it is clear that we are penalized by the similarity of our numbers to a national standard for emergency calls. I applaud the tone of the email, which is not blameful – just desperate for a solution. However, I have great skepticism that advising “due care” in dialing will make any difference at all.

Recent Research Potpourri

Just a small plug for some recent research from Anne and me. The topics are ones that we’ve discussed on the blog:  games and cognitive training and e-health tools.  First, Anne and colleagues recently published a paper showing that playing World of Warcraft can boost some measures of cognitive abilities in older adults:

The effectiveness of a game-based cognitive training intervention on multiple abilities was assessed in a sample of 39 older adults aged 60–77. The intervention task was chosen based on a cognitive task analysis designed to determine the attentional and multi-modal demands of the game. Improvements on a measure of attention were found for the intervention group compared to controls. Furthermore, for the intervention group only, initial ability scores predicted improvements on both tests of attention and spatial orientation. These results suggest cognitive training may be more effective for those initially lower in ability.

Meanwhile, my group has recently published a paper looking at the barriers to older adults’ adoption of electronic personal health records:

Electronic personal health records (PHRs) have the potential to both make health information more accessible to patients and function as a decision-support system for patients managing chronic conditions. Age-related changes in cognition may make traditional strategies of integrating and understanding existing (i.e., paper-based) health information more difficult for older adults. The centralized and integrated nature of health information, as well as the long-term tracking capabilities present in many PHRs, may be especially beneficial for older patients’ management of health. However, older adults tend to be late adopters of technology and may be hesitant to adopt a PHR if the benefits are not made clear (perceived usefulness). Toward the design of a useful PHR, a needs analysis was conducted to determine how people currently manage their health information, what they perceive as useful, and to identify any unmet needs. This paper describes two qualitative studies examining the health information needs of both younger and older adults. The first study used a 2-week diary methodology to examine everyday health questions or concerns, while the second study examined maintenance of health information and perceptions of PHRs through the use of a three-part interview. User’s perceptions of the usefulness of PHRs are provided as recommendations for the design of e-health technology, especially those targeted for older adult healthcare consumers. The results suggest that both older and younger adults would deem a PHR useful if it provides memory support in the form of reminders, provides tools to aid in comprehension of one’s health concerns, is interactive and provides automatic functions, and is highly accessible to authorized users, yet one’s information is kept secure and private.

Older adults and Windows 8

In an earlier post we discussed how illuminating simple user testing can be. The video below is computer blogger Chris Pirrilo who put his dad in front of the new Windows 8 Preview. The dad seems to be relatively sophisticated and knows about Windows 7 but is completely flummoxed by Windows 8 new “Metro” interface.

Note that this is the reaction of just one person but we shouldn’t discount it. Plenty of users (both young and old) are not as sophisticated as you and I. I guess Anne and I (and other human factors & aging researchers) will still have lots of work!

(via Daring Fireball)

Development of the ground proximity warning system for aviation

This article tells the story of inspiration for and creation of a “ground proximity warning” system for pilots, as well as multiple other types of cockpit warnings. Don’t miss the video embedded as a picture in the article! It has the best details!

Some choice excerpts:

About 3.5 miles out from the snow-covered rock face, a red light flashed on the instrument panel and a recorded voice squawked loudly from a speaker.

“Caution — Terrain. Caution — Terrain.”

The pilot ignored it. Just a minute away from hitting the peaks, he held a steady course.

Ten seconds later, the system erupted again, repeating the warning in a more urgent voice.

The pilot still flew on. Snow and rock loomed straight ahead.

Suddenly the loud command became insistent.

“Terrain. Pull up! Pull up! Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!”

Accidents involving controlled flight into terrain still happen, particularly in smaller turboprop aircraft. During the past five years, there have been 50 such accidents, according to Flight Safety Foundation data.

But since the 1990s, the foundation has logged just two in aircraft equipped with Bateman’s enhanced system — one in a British Aerospace BAe-146 cargo plane in Indonesia in 2009; one in an Airbus A321 passenger jet in Pakistan in 2010.

In both cases, the cockpit voice recorder showed the system gave the pilots more than 30 seconds of repeated warnings of the impending collisions, but for some reason the pilots ignored them until too late.

After a Turkish Airlines 737 crashed into the ground heading into Amsterdam in 2009, investigators discovered the pilots were unaware until too late that their air speed was dangerously low on approach. Honeywell added a “low-airspeed” warning to its system, now basic on new 737s.

For the past decade, Bateman has worked on ways of avoiding runway accidents by compiling precise location data on virtually every runway in the world.