Older Adults and Technology Acceptance by. Ashley Dechant

Like everything in this society, there are stereotypes linked to getting older. One of the more common stereotypes is older adults not being able to understand technology or know how to use it. I have seen this within my own life, when my mom does not know how to use social media, how to send an email, or even how to text me. These are just a number of things I have noticed, as she has grown older. The question is, is this because she is growing older or is there underlying factors that cause older adults to struggle with technology acceptance?

A lot of what determines someone’s eagerness and success to learn something is attitude. There was a study done to show this by, “discussing the similarities and differences between the attitudes and experiences of older and younger users of computers and technology” (Broady & Caputi, 2010). In a study with 384 participants ranging from 20-75 years old with different levels of experience with computers shows that older adults were less comfortable, competent and had less control over computers than younger adults. Older adults had more negative attitudes about using computers. This may stem from how older adults are taught how to use computers and other technology. It is observed with novice computer users that older novices need more time to train and end up making more mistakes while learning (Broady & Caputi, 2010). The tutors did not slow their speed of teaching to the needs of the older adults, which led to them having negative feelings like inadequacy and incapableness.

Within the study it was found that there was no age difference in overall attitudes about computer and technology use (Broady & Caputi, 2010). There was a trend that showed that although older adults were unable to use computers efficiently compared to younger adults, they saw it still necessary. They wanted to accept the technological advances and the benefits it could offer. Attitudes have continued to change over the course of 20 years because as older adults become more experienced with computers and technology, they start to have a more positive attitude toward it. “With proper encouragement, clear explanations of the personal benefits and an appropriate time schedule, older people certainly have the potential to become equally effective in using technology and computers as younger age group” (Broady & Caputi, 2010).

A form of computer use that is often used is the Internet. In a study done by Gatto and Tak in 2008, they explored how older adults use computers and why. It was then narrowed down to they benefits and barriers it brought to older adults. In the study 58 older adults who were between the ages of 59-85 years old and identified as an Internet user for more than one month, were given an Internet user form. Within this form, it asked likert scale questions, open-ended questions to name a few. The form was used to ask questions like how often they used the internet during the week, experiences they had learning how to use the internet, barriers and benefits of internet use, etc. (Gatto & Tak, 2008).

From the results, 90% said they learned about computers out of curiosity or own interests. This shows that not all older adults are unwilling to accept technology. Then 50% said what they found on the Internet was “quite a bit” to “extremely” helpful when they looked to it to gain knowledge (Gatto & Tak, 2008). From that information, you then can dig deeper and see what the positive and negative aspects were in their experiences. Many older adults reflected that using the Internet helped to stay connected, that it was a positive learning experience and left them satisfied. On the other hand, some said it left them frustrated, mistrusting, limited, and not very timely. These barriers are holding older adults back from accepting technology, so how can we better accommodate teaching of technology to them? It is said by keeping them in mind and being aware, we can better tailor education to them.

More specifically, another form of computer use that has become very popular is: social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Many older adults don’t use them platforms as much as younger adults do. To better understand why, there was a study done to see what factors discouraged or encouraged older adults from using these sites. It is to also see what can be done to have communication media that both younger and older adults can use to enjoy and feel comfortable using to communicate. The study consisted of 124 Internet using older adults who ranged from 60-90 years old. Participants were asked to fill out a survey online or on paper. The survey was a technology acceptance model (TAM), which predicts the intention to use a new technology. The results showed that there was a high percentage that saw perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use. Many saw it was a great way to keep in contact with family and for networking use.

Older adults did show concern in how to navigate these social networking sites. It is encouraged to provide older adults with more detailed guidance on how to use these sites (Braun, 2013). If they still were struggling with using social networking sites, many older adults said that usefulness and safety of the sites was necessary for them to start to use. So creating beliefs for older adults is a good way for them to start utilizing sites like Facebook. Older adults do show more technology acceptance if introduced to it the right way.

Another thing to talk about is, as people grow older, they are more prone to cognitive deficits that have a huge effect on how they live their life. This may include but is not limited to: depression, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. A study by Rosenberg, et al. in 2009 looks at how the use of everyday technology (cellphones, remote controls, microwave ovens) could be difficult for older adults with cognitive deficits. The study asked people who were 55 years and older to participate. There were a total of 157 participants in the end who were categorized in three groups. Group one had 34 participants with mild-stage dementia, group two had 30 participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and then group three had 93 participants with no known cognitive impairments (Rosenberg et al., 2009).

In the study, a cross sectional comparison study was used; participants were given a technology use questionnaire (ETUQ) in a standardized interview. Broken down, participants were given a list of 86 items and asked if they used these items in their every day lives and if its difficulty to use. As a result, group three had revealed more items were relevant in their everyday lives, than groups one and two (Rosenberg et al., 2009). Group one had a higher mean of saying these items were more difficult to use in everyday life; group two and then group three followed. This shows a correlation that older adults with dementia and MCI have more difficulty navigating everyday technology than someone who doesn’t have a cognitive deficit.

From all the findings I see that there hasn’t been one study that says older adults don’t want to integrate themselves into this technology-based society. Some trends I saw is that the way older adults are taught how to use technology, greatly effects they way they see and view technology. A lot of the times, people don’t take into account that older adults take longer to learn something than a young adult does. As well as the cognitive deficits that many older adults are prone to that a younger adult may not be to. So they are left confused and feel incompetent by not learning as fast or well as someone else. “As technology advances, professionals who teach and care for older adults need to be aware of the characteristics of older computer users. They need to know the perceived barriers and benefits of computer, Internet, and e-mail use in order to tailor education and interventions to this population” (Gatto & Tak 2008). This is only one solution that can help with technology acceptance in older adults. Overall, there will always be stereotypes in society that are not true, unless someone scratches beyond the surface and can reveal something else.

References

Braun, M. T. (2013). Obstacles to social networking website use among older adults. Computers in Human Behavior29(3), 673-680.

Broady, T., Chan, A., & Caputi, P. (2010). Comparison of older and younger adults’ attitudes towards and abilities with computers: Implications for training and learning. British Journal Of Educational Technology41(3), 473-485. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00914.x

Gatto, S. L., & Tak, S. H. (2008). Computer, Internet, and E-mail Use Among Older Adults: Benefits and Barriers. Educational Gerontology34(9), 800-811. doi:10.1080/03601270802243697

Rosenberg, L., Kottorp, A., Winblad, B., & Nygård, L. (2009). Perceived difficulty in everyday technology use among older adults with or without cognitive deficits. Scandinavian Journal Of Occupational Therapy16(4), 216-226. doi:10.3109/11038120802684299

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