Initially, mobile devices and websites were considered something primarily for young people, but today, smartphones are becoming increasingly popular among older adults who use them for various purposes. With the ageing population of the US, it is estimated that by 2030, 19 per cent of its citizens qualifies as elderly (García-Peñalvo, Conde-González, & Matellán-Olivera, 2014, p. 117). The ability to access online sites is seen as an advantage, and the failure to successfully use digital devices and online resources is a serious obstacle encountered by many elderly citizens.
Among the key issues, there is a need to address poor vision, hearing and motor control, along with building relationships via social networks and receiving necessary information promptly. This paper aims to study specific websites and mobile devices that may be of good use for the elderly for them to adapt to the changing conditions of the world and to learn new valuable information that might make life easier.
What are the Elderly’s Needs with Regard to Websites and Mobile Devices?
Mobile Devices for Vision, Hearing and Motor Control
The world’s population is ageing, while the number of older Internet users is constantly growing. According to Kekade et al. (2018), today, more and more people of mature age prefer to use wearable devices that facilitate access to the World Wide Web and simplify everyday tasks. Older people often suffer from memory loss, and it is difficult for them to concentrate on something for a long time. Also, there may be problems with the perception of new words and language, as well as difficulties with socialisation.
Those people who have some adaptation challenges caused by age-related physiological changes are forced to adapt to new living conditions, and access to modern digital technologies opens up new opportunities. These issues concern not only physiological but also cognitive aspects.
Quite often, older adults see and hear poorly and may have issues with speech and memory. For instance, for people who have impaired vision, there are special amplifying lens modes which can adjust the level of vision by regulating brightness, fonts and other options (Obi, Ishmatova, & Iwasaki, 2013). To support this category of users, contemporary smartphones have features to increase voice volume and use an onscreen zoom for the content of websites.
Nowadays, it is evident that people can independently find all the information they need on the Internet. The basic needs of the elderly may include tips on planning vacations, detailed descriptions of tourist routes, news about disease prevention, discounts and transport schedules. They can find the most appropriate hospitals and transportation ways without leaving their homes. As König, Seifert and Doh (2018) note, unlike young people, the elderly rationally distribute their time on the Internet, which means that they are more likely to try living an organised life, having time to go on a walk, visit friends at the hospital and communicate with peers.
The existing evidence shows that regular use of the Internet by older adults brings them moral satisfaction by the fact that they can also master new technologies. According to Greysen, Garcia, Sudore, Cenzer and Covinsky (2014), the ability to study various programs and computer processes despite age is perceived by them as an important achievement. Such an approach to the elderly can be regarded as a good therapy to maintain their optimistic attitudes to life, as well as an excellent stimulator of the brain activity (Greysen et al., 2014).
Since many elders are prone to Alzheimer’s disease, the impact of the Internet on them cannot be overestimated (Konig et al., 2018). The process of searching, the subsequent reading of the target materials and the viewing of videos stimulate the work of the brain more than the classical reading of printed books, magazines, or other sources.
It may be the case that older adults’ gestures are no longer precise enough to control touch screens and small buttons, and they may find it much more difficult to learn something new compared to younger users (Braun, 2013). Therefore, developers should pay attention to their specific needs while designing web pages and mobile devices. For instance, some guides should be considered on how to access websites of hospitals and health organisations or how to turn off the features that allow increasing fonts or adjusting brightness.
One of the major problems for older adults is the issue of ensuring the security of their personal information. Many of them are afraid that other people can access their personal data and steal them. The elderly believe that if they begin to spread information about their daily lives and experiences, it can be seen by strangers who may take advantage of it in a selfish way (Braun, 2013). It can be related to one of the advantages of Facebook and social networks – many elderly people register on these websites to follow their children and relatives and the events in their lives. It can make them fear that someone else will do the same.
Accordingly, the number of the elderly in social networks can be increased if developers make the security systems more visual and transparent. Watson, Salmon, Lacey and Kerr (2018) note that it is possible to show older adults who can and who cannot see messages, photos and videos. Such an approach will help those ageing people who lead a lonely lifestyle maintain close relationships with their loved ones.
Websites for Improving and Supporting Health
For the target audience to use targeted websites effectively, it is important that the pages contain the most accurate information possible. Broderick et al. (2014) note that health literacy applications are useful for explaining to older adults the importance of their disease, prescribed medications, nutrition and other essential issues that are critical for their health. Hussain, Wenbi, da Silva, Nadher and Mudhish (2015) emphasise the role of mobile emergency platforms that can be used by the elderly to contact their doctors directly and ask for medical services. Such platforms should be intuitively comprehensible and easy to navigate so that the elderly face as fewer difficulties as possible.
Older people using the Internet either via the personal computer or through the mobile device tend to think more about their health, being screened for cancer and leading a healthy lifestyle. Prevention measures become especially important when it comes to older adults and oncological diseases. A group of scholars specialising in early cancer diagnostics conducted the study on the Internet activity of the elderly with regard to their lifestyle, nutrition and health (Xavier et al., 2013).
In the study, the respondents answered specific questions regarding the frequency of using the Internet, examinations for colon cancer and the mammary gland, nutrition patterns, as well as physical and mental activities. It was revealed that 51 per cent of those who did not use the Internet passed the examination for cancer, 62 per cent of those who often used it, and 73 per cent of those were are regular Internet users (Xavier et al., 2013, p. 2070). It means that access to the World Wide Web provides more opportunities for self-education and obtaining valuable information regarding protection against such a dangerous disease as cancer.
Health monitoring can be provided to the elderly population through the use of appropriate mobile applications. There are special electronic programs that help to control certain physiological indicators, thereby having a positive effect on preventing the progression of dangerous ailments. Portz et al. (2018) give an example of applications developed for the elderly population with cardiovascular problems and the risk of heart failure (HF). The authors argue that “mobile applications may provide a solution for older adults to self-manage symptoms of HF” (Portz et al., 2018, p. 161). Therefore, the developers of such platforms are engaged in important activities aimed at helping people with health risks and the need for additional assistance.
Opportunities for Relationship Building
Communication is an essential condition for the socialisation of the elderly population, and various case studies aimed at determining the benefits of the interaction of older adults with one another prove this fact. To minimise the risk of social isolation among older adults and enable them to change their life for the better, they can be encouraged to use social networks (Mohammed, Belal, & Ibrahim, 2016). Someone can contact them from time to time to help them send or receive emails, watch videos, or order products and services, while some elderly people demonstrate a higher level of technical expertise (Hossain, Alamri, Almogren, Hossain, & Parra, 2014).
According to Hossain et al. (2014), various online platforms offer a simplified interface that will be convenient for people with certain cognitive issues. This option is likely to allow older citizens to remain aware of recent trends and events regardless of how advanced users they are.
The Internet is if great importance for those whose family members travel around the world or live in remote areas. With the help of instant messaging applications, the elderly can make video calls and communicate with their loved ones. For the elderly, it is essential to keep in touch with their relatives and friends. By writing an email to a relative or friend in any part of the world and receiving an immediate answer may seem rather beneficial for the elderly. Since they are especially sensitive to feelings and emotions, video calls are an excellent way to maintain communication and participation in each other’s lives.
Real-time communication is a significant part of life in society, and for the elderly, this opportunity has a particularly high value. According to the review conducted by Nowland, Necka and Cacioppo (2018), “in the 2002 Health and Retirement Survey, 19.3% of U.S. adults older than 65 years old reported feeling lonely for much of the previous week” (p. 70). These figures indicate that earlier, when communication on social networks and other instant messengers was not developed sufficiently, a large number of pensioners experienced discomfort due to the lack of contact with relatives and friends.
However, today, when the possibilities of the Internet have developed significantly, an ability to communicate with loved ones is real and simple. As König et al. (2018) remark, access to the global network provides all older adults without exception with the chance of staying in touch and, at the same time, feeling more secure since in case of an urgent need, it is possible to connect with other people quickly. It is particularly true if a person suffers from dangerous diseases or cognitive disorders. Moreover, when being online, older adults can also reconnect with people from their past, such as childhood friends or former neighbours. The Internet not only facilitates the revival of past relationships but also simplifies the organisation of meetings, as the required people can be reached rapidly and with minimal efforts.
In order to prove the effectiveness of communication on the Internet of the elderly, a group of scholars from the United States observed the lives of the elderly (Cotten, Ford, Ford, & Hale, 2014). Those participants of the experiment who regularly used the Internet to exchange information or practice self-education had the best indicators of their psychological condition. Those who have successfully mastered the skills of working on the Internet were likely to suffer less from feelings of loneliness and depression. An indicator illustrates a decrease in the level of depression, which was 30 per cent less in users compared to the group of participants who did not use these technologies (Cotten et al., 2014, p. 765).
Based on the specified results, one may suggest that the Internet and the socialisation of the elderly may be targeted as new methods of addressing depression. However, it is necessary to stress that only a limited amount of time is beneficial for the elderly due to their age (Mohammed et al., 2016). They are not to forget about real life issues; therefore, the Internet should only be an interesting and useful supplement to everyday affairs.
Progressively, the global Internet space is adapting to the requirements of an elderly audience. For instance, Konig et al. (2018) mention the search engine called Cranky that was designed for those over 50 years of age, presenting a modest design, a limited number of banners, and only four links are displayed on the search results to make sure that older users are not lost in excess of information. In its turn, the British company Saga invented a social network for the elderly.
The quality of this platform is due to the fact that older adults can find partners in interests and exchange views with different people while using the contemporary opportunities of the World Wide Web. Self-education and gaining new experience help them to improve well-being and are positive factors in protecting against potential dementia and other cognitive problems.
At the same time, the elderly need special support from others who may educate them. Watson, et al. (2018) note that primarily middle-aged people and older adults should work in customer support since it is easier to find mutual understanding with elderly clients and make the procedure of connecting to the Internet is as simple as possible. Such an approach may help this category of the population to maintain sufficiently high knowledge in the sphere of modern technologies, thereby contributing to their well-being.
While the feeling of loneliness is inherent in any person, it is especially pronounced in the elderly. To help a person cope with a lack of communication, one may invite him or her to engage in various discussions (Braun, 2013). It is important not to close from the outside world and find a business for one’s soul. As soon as one finds an interest in life, a circle of like-minded people will immediately begin to emerge, which over time can transform into friendship.
As Nowland et al. (2018) note, many large online platforms, for instance, Facebook, contain special communities of interest and help people find those activities that suit them. In case one likes knitting, he or she can visit a master class dedicated to this art online. By entering the online community of those who are also keen on knitting, the elderly may receive valuable assistance and feel better.
In sum, older adult users have specific requirements for using websites and mobile devices, such as accessibility and intuitive design. These people may require adaptations for their hearing, vision and motor control. By using mobile applications and accessing websites, they can learn more about their health needs while consulting with doctors and receiving timely information. Also, social networks and media can be considered the means of entertainment for the elderly.
Therefore, it becomes evident that there is a need to develop more websites and mobile applications that would assist the elderly in meeting their everyday activities. Since the issue of socialisation is of great importance for the third age population, communication platforms, video calls and an intuitive design should be taken into account. The development of technologies for the elderly will ensure equal opportunities in relation to other generations to assist them in adapting and preventing social exclusion.
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