Is tech for older people?

Or asking a 92 year old person to wear a virtual reality headset to watch TV.

 

The BBC wrote a few articles about how older people interact with new technologies.

In the article, “The generation that tech forgot”, Ian Hosking, an expert in design for the elderly at the University of Cambridge's engineering design centre, says

"There are some very tech-savvy older people around, but there is clearly a large cohort of people who feel excluded by technology. They find it a bit impenetrable".

 

This quote resonates with us.  At GiveVision, we have been working with elderly people for the past 3 years, in a way that is quite challenging as our objective is to equip visually impaired people with a wearable augmented reality solution.

Most visually impaired people start losing their sight because of age related macular degeneration.

The fact is that people experience all the joy of getting old and also need to redesign their everyday life to deal with their sight loss. Their independence and confidence are challenged.

Making technology easier for them to use is a great start as they are the ones struggling the most to use the device.

However, after testing our prototypes with elderly patients, we realised a few things about a person’s ability in embracing tech.

 

  1. Everyday coping strategies speak for themselves.

 

Many elderly people, especially in their 80s, tend to cope with their new situations without using new tools: sitting close to the TV, listening to audio description or the radio, asking someone to read for them, etc.

Some drop the use of a magnifier, the most used tool, because it is too tedious to read as they normally need a bigger level of magnification. Reading for them means a word or couple of words at a time so processing a lot of text is really hard. They tend to listen to everything as it is quicker. Audio solutions for reading are the most adapted.

 

If this context sounds familiar, the person will struggle to adopt a new device and could consider it as invasive. It might also not make a big difference for their reading experience. However, getting some awareness about tools and good practices could help them to get started!

 

A solution: If a person isn’t satisfied with their situation, but is resistant to solutions (especially techy), bringing her/him to a charity organising peer groups so the person can hear from other people experience and feel more informed and reassured to decide what tools could help them. A decision about a new tool has to be taken by the person and their full acknowledgement to ensure that it will be used.  

 

2. The role of relatives: a key support

 

Relatives witness all the time the struggles of their loved ones. They want to help and bring solutions. However, most of the time, an elderly person will cherish more a presence than a tool. It doesn’t matter how good and useful the tool is. If the user sees it as a treat to spend time with family, they will not adopt it. Some elderly patients mentioned that they would be scared that their relatives might less take care of them because they could be more independent.

 

It doesn’t mean that relatives should stop encouraging their loved ones to find and implement solutions. They have this tough role of listening to struggles in a compassionate way and supporting any change, in the long run. They can make a big difference by doing this substantial work educating on new technologies and providing regular support.

As a personal example, I offered a tablet to my grandmother (84). We don’t live in the same country and I want to see her more often. I showed her a few times how skype works but every single time we chat (1-2/week), I will explain to her how to activate the camera.

 

This role can’t be replaced by support services. The user won’t feel as comfortable talking to a stranger about “silly” questions. It will result in them not using the tech.

 

A solution: If the person is quite isolated, RNIB launched the initiative “Online Today” offering home visits to help visually impaired people deal with their new technologies.

 

3. The hope in a new solution versus the stress generated by a significant change

 

Hearing about a new solution can sound major and full of hope. Hope, for the beneficiaries and their relatives, is so important to keep going.

At GiveVision, we have been overwhelmed by some people’s reactions testing SightPlus, our sight enhancement device. However, being able to see more means redesigning your life and it can be very stressful for some people (not just older people!). They can spend years grieving their loss of sight and getting used to their new situation. They don’t want to go through the roller coaster of emotions changing their routines and before that, dealing with the disappointment that it might not work for them or not the same way as before, when they were fully sighted.

Managing expectations is key and if the person is too stressed to give it a go, use solution 1, being surrounded by peers, until they decide by themselves what they want to do. Forcing the person won’t work. It has never worked with our testers that were dragged to a session.

 

To wrap up, the willingness in testing something new, the support from relatives and peer groups and the understanding of potential benefits and inconveniences will make a difference in their ability to consider and use new technologies.

 

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