Cell Phones for an Aging Population: the Problem

By: Christine Peppler

Technological gadgets have become more prevalent in the lives of the average person in recent years. In addition, these same devices have expanded their individual repertoire of capabilities becoming far more complex. No longer is a cell phone a cell phone; it is a camera, a television, a computer, and MP3 player among other things.

Despite the burgeoning functions of cell phones and other devices, they continue to be further miniaturized to meet the market demands of a certain segment of the population. This headlong race for the smallest and most complex device has given many increased connectivity and efficiency, but has completely ignored a huge portion of the world's consumers; the elderly as one example. Although there are many well over the age of 65 who have no difficulty using modern gadgets including the cell phone, there are far more who are cut off from important products and services that been designed for an entirely different group of people.

There are a number of physical changes that occur as people age and certainly a number of physical disorders that are more common among the elderly which make the use of smaller and more complex cell phones either difficult or impossible for a significant number of those in the upper age categories. This issue with accessibility is particularly problematic in a population which could greatly benefit from the immediate and easy communication that cell phones are supposed to provide.

A number of physical disorders that tend to strike the elderly can limit motor abilities. Tremors, general weakness, and coordination problems can be among the results of these diseases but the reduced range of movement from arthritis is the most prevalent. Per the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of physician diagnosed arthritis in adults is estimated to be 33% in the US with other reports indicating that 58.8% of individuals over 65 have arthritis. Arthritis, as well as other disorders affecting motor movements, can seriously limit the ability to make use of ultra small keypads on modern cell phones.

Hearing impairment is another condition that has high prevalence in the elderly. Research reported in the August 2005 issue of the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, indicated that an estimated 40-45% of all individuals over 65 years of age and greater than 83% of those over age 70 experience hearing loss. This can explain why high pitched ring tones, low volume headsets, and incompatibility with hearing aids limit the usefulness of cell phones for a significant portion of older individuals.

Certainly, for the vast majority of those over 40 the ability to focus on objects and print in close proximity degrades over time making tiny screens with small fonts and small print on the keypad difficult to see. For other individuals, add to this the issue of macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, or diabetic retinopathy that are significantly more prevalent in those over 65, and the average cell phone is rendered useless.

Although there is great variability within the over 65 demographic, another factor which can make modern cell phones difficult for some of these individuals is their unfamiliarity with more recent technologies and the complexity of using the device. The feature laden cell phone models that are highly coveted by the younger, often more technologically savvy population can be too complex to operate for those who have less experience with similar gadgets.

In addition to the increasing complexity and physical requirements necessary to operate modern cell phones, the features they offer are geared more toward a younger crowd as well. Although there are certainly exceptions, frequent text messaging, downloading, and listening to popular songs and movies for instance are generally features that hold greater value for a youthful audience.

For an aging population that wishes to maintain their independence and to utilize tools that simplify rather than complicate their lives, cell phones that better accommodate older users will need to be designed to meet the different abilities, needs, and desires of these individuals. The older population is a significant portion of the market and should drive some of the future design and development of cell phone products and services.

Cell Phones
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Cell Phones
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles