Silver Meets Silicon

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More and more seniors are using technology to stay connected and access services. A UM expert says IT providers should meet them halfway.

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In Touch with IT
Information and communication technologies such as Internet, e-mail, and telephone menu systems are not just the domain of the young. According to Sara Czaja, a UM professor with joint appointments in the Miller School’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the College of Engineering, finding ways to help seniors adapt to these technologies can increase their access to services as well as enable them to stay in touch with family and friends—and to stay independent longer.

Czaja is director of the Center on Research and Education for Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE), an NIH-funded multi-site center coordinated at the University of Miami. “Our research focuses on tasks and technologies that people use on a daily basis, such as the Medicare Web site or interactive telephone menu systems for activities like banking, shopping, or reservations,” Czaja explains. She and other UM researchers then develop interventions and educational programs that can help seniors use these technologies. “Seniors are anxious to participate,” Czaja says. “But they’re looking for specific things, and not-too-complicated features.’’ Czaja recently received renewed funding of $9 million over five years from the National Institute on Aging for CREATE.

High-Tech Anxiety
Clearly there’s work to be done. A 2006 study led by Czaja and published in Psychology and Aging found that older adults were less likely than younger adults to use technology in general, computers, and the World Wide Web, a phenomenon partly attributable to their anxieties about technology.

A more recent report by Czaja and colleague Joseph Sharit, a professor of industrial engineering, in theJournal of the American Medical Association found that a sample of 112 elderly people who used Medicare’s Web site in a controlled laboratory setting found it “confusing and overly complex.” She hopes to convince Medicare to make the site easier for older individuals to use; as the report concluded, “To ensure that electronic health tools reach their full potential, broad and inclusive input from consumers should serve as the basis for design.”

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