Aging technologies

Aging is associated with challenges that hinder the wellbeing of older adults. These challenges range from physical problems and impairments to social inclusion and isolation. Nevertheless, new technological systems have enabled the maintenance of fairly healthier lives and safer environments while maintaining the manageable activities of daily life (ADLs) for older adults. Both healthcare and tech developers have ensured that technologies made for these purposes improve physical health, security, and convenience for older adults. Among them, the computing and design domains have endeavored to improve mental health and mobility using the current technologies (Stefanov et al., 2004; Demiris et al., 2009; Ding et al., 2011). Such technologies include interactive types, which have become a critical study area.

Interactive Technologies

Interactive technologies enable older adults to communicate or use other technologies at straightforwardly. Hargreaves et al. (2018) find that interactive technologies have enabled older adults to use other sophisticated technologies without having to learn or familiarize themselves with complex commands or technical languages. Nevertheless, several studies suggest that older adults must be willing to learn, adapt, and perceive interactive technologies (Huber and Watson, 2016; Selwyn et al.,2003). They further urge for the appraisal of training and educational systems that support the use of interactive technologies by older adults. In that perspective, aging technologies have become both critical health and social recommendation for older adults. Besides, discussions have changed from whether interactive technologies are useful or efficient to what can be done to make the outcomes pleasurable for older adults.


Beneficence Associated with Aging Technologies

One of the desirable outcomes of using interactive technologies is independence. Social independence is revealed through routines and living environments – an exciting area that developers have found effective use of technology (Horgas & Abowd, 2004). Tech developers must ensure their aging technologies maintain the desirable independence by older adults. For instance, new technologies have automation capabilities, which make enable older adults who are physically weak or cognitively impaired to live independently. That is, they do not exclusively rely on caregivers to do all their ADLs. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed Rendever, a virtual reality technology that alleviates social isolation when caregivers and companions are away. Also, Ding et al. (2011) cite that there is a significant need for ICTs integration in aging technologies, as part of the interactive technologies. ICTs are fitted with sensors and audio features that assist in the movement and execution of activities, making the living environment safe and suitable for ADL’s for older adults. Some make life even exciting, like Jibo, which tells jokes and mimics emotions of older adults, to keep them emotionally active.

Besides independence, aging technologies also promote convenience for ADL’s of older adults. With an increase in age, most older adults become incapacitated to participate in activities that are critical for their wellbeing actively. For instance, physical frailness makes it challenging for older adults to go out to shopping malls or trim flowers in their gardens. In such situations, aging technologies such as “aging in place” and “assisted technologies” assist with such activities or support older adults to execute them. Studies have found that aging technologies – through convenience, have a positive association with social and emotional functioning (Cotten, Ford, Ford, & Hale, 2014; Hogeboom, McDermott, Perrin, Osman, & Bell-Ellison, 2010). However, it is not yet clear when the potential benefits of technology become convenient for older adults in social contexts. That has led to concerns and, afterward, studies that have evaluated the ramifications of aging technologies on the environments, ADLs, and independence of older adults (Horgas & Abowd, 2004). Some interesting study questions include whether aging technologies improve convenience for older adults’ lives and whether older adults believe in the beneficences of aging technologies. It is from such questions that the advantages explained above and challenges associated with the use of aging technologies are identified.

Challenges Associated with Aging Technologies

Aging technologies requires one to learn and understand them for maximum convenience and independence. Studies have shown that aging technologies and especially interactive technologies are most useful for older adults who have perceived, learned, adopted, and accepted them as essentials for their ADLs (Horgas & Abowd, 2004). While this is a positive implication, the learning process is an extra burden for older adults. Besides, some might have a severe cognitive impairment, making it hard for them to learn the technologies; thus, reducing their utility.

In connection to learning, aging technologies also face usability challenges. As mentioned above, one has to attend training or educational sessions to perceive, learn, adapt, and accept interactive technologies (Horgas & Abowd, 2004). Should one fail to succeed in this part, the usability of aging technologies risks redundancy. Nevertheless, Davis (1989) identified the ease or difficulty of use for aging technology as a significant determinant of the adoption of TAM for an individual older adult. Also, Czaja et al. (2006) explain that developers ensure that aging technologies are custom for people with general physical weakness, cognitive impairment, and limited technological familiarity. This is after categorization according to physical conditions for sight, mobility, and speech and mental status such as memory and processing speed (Czaja et al., 2006; Eek & Wressle, 2011; LeRouge, Ma, Sneha, & Tolle, 2013). Hence, usability is an adoption issue for aging technology.

The cost of aging technologies is not affordable for all older adults. Although technology might be optimized to meet optimal convenience and offer the desired pleasure of independence, most older adults are likely to avoid them based on cost. Studies have found that one of the determinants for an older adult to accept an old age technological assist is its cost (Steele et al., 2009). Besides, older adults are less aware of the importance or significance of the technologies, and they are not willing to spend money on something they do not understand (Heinz et al., 2013). Hence, the cost of aging technologies is critical for acceptance by older adults.

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Nevertheless, the cost challenge is partly allied to the awareness of an older adult concerning aging technology. According to the SCAN Foundation, older adults are likely to use the technologies have outcomes that they desire or are aware of (2010). Studies have shown that older adults are attracted to technologies that provide utilities that are clear and are deemed to improve their current wellbeing (Melenhorst et al., 2001; Steele, Lo, Secombe, and Wong, 2009; Walsh and Callan, 2010). That is, regardless of the novelty of a technology or its popularity, older adults are more likely to adopt that which they perceive to have a potential benefit or might help them attain their desired convenience. This challenge escalates since there is only a less portion of the older adult population that is up-to-date with emerging technologies. According to Heinz et al. (2013), this population is generally not aware of the new technologies and their utility. Therefore, as Tanriverdi and Iacono (1999) put it, there is a critical need for older adults to be enlightened about the new technologies that are potentially useful for their ADLs, since lack of awareness is a barrier to adoption. Also, maximum adoption is likely to be achieved through effective communication to the older adults concerning the technologies, their purses, utility, and potential benefits (Eisma et al., 2004; Kang et al., 2010; Lam and Lee, 2006). This is backed by Aula 92005) whose study indicated that showing the benefits of technology to an older adult, and explaining precisely its benefits is one way to successful adoption. Therefore, limited awareness of the usefulness of aging technologies to older adults is a critical challenge to their adoption.

Additionally, most older adults do not trust new technologies. The SCAN Foundation has found that when older adults encounter new technology, they tend to express lower levels of trust and restrained familiarity (2010). The mistrust is often due to the observation that computers take and manipulate data, and the storage of the data is rather unfamiliar. Also, most new technologies require one to learn them to use or understand them. This is an additional burden to older adults – as mentioned earlier, and few people are likely to commit their effort in learning or using the technologies (Mitzner et al., 2010). Several studies have concluded that the mistrust is due to the unavailability of similar technologies or lack of previous experience with personal assist technologies (Demiris et al., 2004; Moore, 1999; Poynton, 2005; Wang et al., 2010). Nevertheless, in-person training and use of hardcopy manuals on the usage of aging technologies is a potential way to improve trust by older adults. Also, to end the technological anxiety in old age, it is better for the societal development of educational and training programs that keep people across all demographics up-to-date or aware of the developing technologies.

The mistrust may escalate to technophobia, which makes older adults defiant of the new aging technologies. Technophobia occurs because they do not want to change, or they are paranoid about the implications on the technology to them and their caregivers. In some pre-implementation studies, participants raised concerns about the burden that the aging technologies would impose on them or their caregivers, seeming not to like it. Peek et al. (2014) explain that technophobia is normal for people who did not grow up in environments that are populated by smart machines, and changing mindset is often not instant. Thus, studies may find effective ways to mitigate the technophobia and facilitate the smooth adoption of aging technologies by older adults.

Also, family and other caregivers influence the technophobia and adoption of aging technologies. According to Hanson et al. (2011), the family is the major determinant of whether an older adult would adopt a technology or not. For instance, with communication technologies, older adults would rely on them to communicate with the caregivers, who are often family members. Also, some devices like mobile phones may be tailored for older adults’ care, such as reminder and health information sourcing and recording (Dishman et al., 2008); and family members must agree to use them as such. In situations where the family fails to adopt or cannot afford the technology, the older adult may thus not adopt it. Therefore, the family, and especially children, must first adopt or support the aging technology through to facilitate its utility (Walsh and Callan, 2010). Hence, among all challenges facing aging technologies, family counts significantly.