Category Archives: aging

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.

Older adults prefer less choice than younger adults

In the recent issue of the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers Andrew Reed, Joseph Mikels, and Kosali Simon examined whether older adults would prefer having fewer options when faced with a decision-making task.  Confirming previous research, they found that across 6 domains (e.g., prescription health plans, hospitals), older adults preferred having fewer options rather than greater.

In their study, 102 older adults (ranging in age from 60-94) and 99 younger adults (ranging in age from 18-24) completed questionnaires asking about their desired number of choices in everyday decisions.

The authors surmised that older adults prefered fewer choices because of their awareness of their reduced decision-making competence (metacognitive recognition of their own limitations).

This kind of research certainly could have human factors and design implications.  However, it might be too simplistic to just suggest that we give older adults fewer options.  More research is necessary 🙂

Reed, A. E., Mikels, J. A., & Simon, K. I.  (2008).  Older adults prefer less choice than younger adults.  Psychology and Aging, 23, 671-675.

This brief report reminds me of the easy to read book, The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz.

The Paradox of Choice
The Paradox of Choice

Pew Internet: Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services

A new Pew report examines the usage of cloud computing applications and services which is a topic I’ve been interested in recently.  Something noteworthy was that, as we suspected, older adults don’t appreciate the benefits of cloud computing compared to other age groups:

Older adults’ are seemingly the ones who could benefit most from cloud computing.  Keeping mail or other information in the cloud means that the user doesn’t have to configure their mail client, maintain their computer, etc.

Pew Internet: Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services

On a semi-related note, here is a slightly long video description of cloud computing:

Text Input in a Mobile World

I‘ve always thought text inputs from anything other than a keyboard were clunky. Cliff Kushler, the man who invented T9 (a word completion aid) has developed Swype, a new text entry method that capitalizes on eliminating the press and release component of the touchscreen. What was once a discrete target acquisition task becomes a continuous one.

In the CNET interview, Kushler points out his age (55) and his words-per-minute with Swype (50). Not bad.

If you’re interested in research on alternate text input devices, check out some of the following:

Tag-based interfaces and Aging

I was recently interviewed by our campus news service about receiving a Google Research Award to study information retrieval and aging. The research involves designing information retrieval interfaces around the capabilities and limitations of older adults (those age 60 and above). Here is a snippet from the press release:

Richard Pak, an assistant professor of psychology, has received a $50,000 gift from Google to study how older adults navigate the Web and what Web site design features make searches easier. The grant will fund an extension of his research on aging and technology.

“The findings are that when you take a Web site and organize it hierarchically — like how you might organize your documents on your computer with folders within folders — older adults are much slower and make more errors when they are searching for information compared to younger adults,” Pak said. “We think that this is the case because the situation does not allow older adults to use their greater knowledge toward the situation. However, when you take that same Web site and organize it around keywords or concepts instead of folders, older adults are able to bring their wealth of general knowledge to the situation and perform almost equivalently to younger adults in the task.”

That is, older adults seem to perform better using so-called “tag-based sites,” which are Web sites that organize their information around frequently used keywords. Pak said that while tag-based sites are still relatively new, several popular sites use tags. These include,, and the photo sharing Web site

The recently published paper, “Designing an information search interface for younger and older adults” appears in the latest issue of the journal Human Factors.

Unlike McCain, many seniors depend on the Web – Yahoo News

NEW YORK – If Sen. John McCain is really serious about becoming a Web-savvy citizen, perhaps Kathryn Robinson can help.

Robinson is now 106 — that’s 35 years older than McCain — and she began using the Internet at 98, at the Barclay Friends home in West Chester, Pa., where she lives. “I started to learn because I wanted to e-mail my family,” she says — in an e-mail message, naturally.

Blogs have been buzzing recently over McCain’s admission that when it comes to the Internet, “I’m an illiterate who has to rely on his wife for any assistance he can get.” And the 71-year-old presumptive Republican nominee, asked about his Web use last week by the New York Times, said that aides “go on for me. I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself.”

Unlike McCain, many seniors depend on the Web – Yahoo News

Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

The journal, Human Factors, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a retrospective of some pivotal research and areas. To celebrate, the entire issue is available online for free. Some highlights:

  • The Split Keyboard: An Ergonomics Success Story
  • The Role of Expertise Research and Human Factors in Capturing, Explaining, and Producing Superior Performance
  • Multiple Resources and Mental Workload
  • Putting the Brain to Work: Neuroergonomics Past, Present, and Future
  • Discoveries and Developments in Human-Computer Interaction
  • Aging and Human Performance

Human Factors and Ergonomics Society : Human Factors Journal Celebrates 50 Years With Special Issue Highlighting Pivotal Research and Applications

Facebook for grandma?

“The Jive was created by Ben Arent, a college student, over a six-month period as part of his product design degree. The concept was designed to get elderly technophobes connected to their friends and family without feeling overwhelmed of learning how to use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc. It would essentially be their own type of social networking.”

[link to Crave which includes a video demonstration]

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar –

First thing every morning, Lynn Pitet, of Cody, Wyo., checks her computer to see whether her mother, Helen Trost, has gotten out of bed, taken her medication and whether she is moving around inside her house hundreds of miles away in Minnesota.

High-Tech Devices Keep Elderly Safe From Afar –

Memory Loss – Aging – Alzheimers Disease – Aging Brains Take In More Information, Studies Show – Health – New York Times

This short article nicely talks about a well known pattern of age-related cognition (that with age comes “wisdom” or knowledge).  The challenge in Human Factors is using this information in design.

“These findings are all very consistent with the context we’re building for what wisdom is,” she said. “If older people are taking in more information from a situation, and they’re then able to combine it with their comparatively greater store of general knowledge, they’re going to have a nice advantage.”

Memory Loss – Aging – Alzheimers Disease – Aging Brains Take In More Information, Studies Show – Health – New York Times