Category Archives: aging

Book: Designing for Older Adults, 2nd edition

Things are quiet on the blog because Anne and I are recovering from the end of the Spring semester and we are furiously finishing our book (tentatively titled, “Designing Displays for Older Adults‘).  It will be one in a series of books in the Human Factors & Aging Series from CRC Press that will be “primers on designing for older adults.”  More details on our book later including a give-a-way!

9781420080551The first book in the Series is the second edition of Designing for Older Adults:  Principles and Creative Human Factors Approaches by Arthur Fisk, Wendy Rogers, Neil Charness, Sara Czaja, and Joseph Sharit.  The book is written in an accessible style and provides guidelines on a wide variety of topics relevant to anyone designing products or systems for use by older adults.

To read a few pages and purchase the book, visit

The $12,000 Design Mistake

Paying bills online may be a time saver to some, but it can adversely impact older users.

Last week, 73-year-old Arthur Simmons decided to pay his home phone bill online for the very first time.

He was supposed to put in $124.14, but he forgot to enter the decimal point. He didn’t notice that the Qwest website added the decimal point and two zeroes for him, so his payment actually went through for $12,416.00.

Simmons and his wife live on a fixed income, and $12,000 is more than they get from social security in an entire year.

The instantaneous withdrawal of $12,000 from his account sent checks bouncing, and left him with nothing to live on.

“I had to get a loan to cover the overdraft, so now that’s costing us,” Simmons said.

One of the benefits to online billpay is convenience, but designers sometimes ignore the other benefit: technology allows for guards against common mistakes.

The designer should ask: “Is there any case where someone would pay 100x their monthly bill? No? Maybe we shouldn’t allow that.”

Of course, the first step would be for the company to have accountability to its customers:

When he called Qwest, he was told it would take six weeks to get him a refund. “They say I can E-Pay them, but they can’t E-Pay it back,” Simmons said.

(post image:

“Internet radio so simple that even an old, stupid idiot can use it”

The title of this post is a tongue-in-cheek quote from a post about a new internet radio, called Ira, that seems to be designed with older users in mind.  The primary design feature seems to be its simplicity.

In fact, so simple is the Ira that it apparently needs no instructions. The site is empty of any kind of technical information. We guess that the kind of moron who would buy it is the kind of moron who probably couldn’t work out how to get to a website and read it anyway.

The simplicity, however, seems to be deceiving as the following graphic shows:

ira_whatyouneedThis situation reminds me of the Ergonomics in Design article from a few years back looking at blood glucose meters (BGM) for diabetics.  In their paper titled, “Analysis of a ‘simple’ medical device”, Rogers et al. discovered that a BGM that was marketed “as easy as 1, 2, 3” actually took 52 steps, not 3.

The short paper is located here.

Consumer RFID technology–The Mirror by Violet

Violet has introduced an interesting computer peripheral called the Mirror that is an RFID reader for home users.  You apply RFID tags to everyday objects, program their actions, and when waved over the mirror, the actions are run from the computer.

When I first saw the following video, I was skeptical–their initial use cases in the video seemed silly.  But around 3:10 in the video, it starts to look really useful, especially for certain populations like older adults.  Imagine a tag on a medication bottle that tells you when you last took your medication and when you next need to take it.

[via Crunchgear]

“Smart” devices may help dementia sufferers remember to shut off stove, live at home longer

From Peter Squire (of The Daily Human Factor) another interesting story on using technology to support aging in place:

smarthome“The whole objective is to enable people to stay at home as long as they can,” says Bruce Carey-Smith, a BIME design engineer. The system reports the wealth of information it collects—from potential problems to successful interventions—to health care providers. “It’s about supporting—not about replacing—the role of care staff,” Carey-Smith says.

He says the system has been installed in the assisted-living residences of two U.K. dementia patients about a year ago—and both trials report good results.

In addition to reminding people to switch off potentially dangerous appliances (and actually shutting them off and contacting help if need be), the system is designed to help people avoid other hazards, such as nighttime wandering and incontinence issues. The system, for instance, senses when someone gets out of bed in the middle of the night and automatically turns on the bathroom light to help them find their way. Or, if the bed senses a prolonged nocturnal absence, the system will play voice recordings that gently remind people that, “it’s awfully late, perhaps you should be getting back to bed,” says Carey-Smith.

[Scientific American]

Lighting up the lives of the elderly – adaptively

From Peter Squire (of The Daily Human Factor):


Artificial light affects us in subtle ways. At its best, ambient lighting can relax, soothe or excite, but used poorly it can drain us of energy and disrupt sleep. What if lighting could adapt automatically to meet our individual needs?

The result, say a team of European researchers, would be an improvement in the general wellbeing of anybody who spends long periods in artificially lit buildings, particularly the elderly and the infirm, but also factory and office workers.

The system uses information from biosensors worn by the occupants of a room or building to determine what users are doing and then changes the lighting accordingly. The researchers’ goal is to use the technology to improve the wellbeing of the elderly, people suffering from age-related illnesses and people with reduced mobility, many of whom spend a lot of time confined indoors.

Click for more information and video.

High-tech Grandma

This really isn’t human factors related other than the fact that my research interests include older adults and the web.  Just to give you a teaser, here is some of the grandmother’s dialog:

The other day, I was hacking around thinking I was running port forwarding my POP packets through SSH encrypted tunnels.  Turns out I got the port number wrong and I ended up encrypting all UDP traffic outboard through my router’s gateway.

Personalized User Interfaces

Researchers at the University of Washington have created a system that can tailor a user interface to the motor and visual abilities of the user.  After a short assessment, the system presents a user interface with presets for the user based on the assessment.  I remember reading about adaptive interfaces quite a long time ago.  Could something similar be built to accommodate age-related cognitive differences?  Perhaps a spatial abilities assessment could be given to change the structure of the user interface to make it easier to use?

[from Slashdot via The Future of Things]

Smart Cars

Recently, an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) hit the news in Europe. I’ve always been interested in advanced navigation systems (and their problems), so I check in on some of the research programs occasionally. After all, individual differences from culture to aging all affect how we use navigation systems.

The original article I mentioned briefly addresses the errors these systems may cause:

Drivers’ uncritical reliance on their sat navs has led to a growing number of mishaps. Last year a woman wrecked her £96,000 Mercedes SL500 trying to drive across a swollen ford through the River Sence in Sheepy Magna, Leicestershire, after her sat nav told her it was a passable route.

…but spent most of the time discussing the errors they catch.

In addition to instructions on when to slow down or change gear for the best fuel economy, motorists will also be warned when they are driving erratically and will even be told at the end of the journey if they have caused undue stress to parts of the car.

Of course, getting to the end of the journey may be more difficult using the current navigation systems. This finding comes from Ziefle, Pappachan, Jakobs and Wallentowitz (2008) who gave an ADAS to older drivers to compensate for age-related perceptual declines. They compared younger and older drivers using either audio or visual aids:

When no assistance was present, driving performance was superior than in both assistance conditions. The visual interface had a lower detrimental effect than the auditory ADAS which had the strongest distracting effect. In contrast to performance outcomes, the auditory interface was rated as more helpful by older drivers compared to the visual interface.

Digital TV Transition will be rocky for some

By February 2009, all over-the-air television broadcasts in the United States will be digital.  There are good reasons for the switch such as better use of bandwidth.  However, people who still use rabbit ear antennas for TV reception will need a new digital converter box which is not a simple undertaking.  While this video is obviously tongue-in-cheek, the switch-over will not be easy for many.  As the video illustrates, it is not clear how to get an antenna, and afterward, how to install it.