Technology leaders experience challenges facing aging adults at Techville 2013

By Kim Chaudoin on 5/6/2013

  
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Social media use has grown dramatically among internet users ages 50 and older, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.

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The study indicates that social networking use by this segment of the population has nearly doubled in the past year. During the same period, use among those ages 65 and older grew 100 percent. By comparison, social networking use among users ages 18 to 29 grew 13 percent. However, social networking products and services are often not designed with users 50 and older in mind.

Experts from Lipscomb’s School of TransformAging helped technology experts understand the unique needs of this group at Techville 2013 on April 23 in Nashville.

“There is a misconception that older adults don’t use the internet, smartphones and other similar technology,” said Beverly Patnaik, School of TransformAging academic director. “But, they are using that at higher rates than ever before. We wanted to demonstrate for leaders in the technology industry the challenges that aging adults face when they try to use these tools and to dispel the myth that older adults don’t use or are afraid of technology.”

The School of TransformAging conducting an aging simulation exercise that allowed Techville attendees to experience the effects of aging and to better understand the growing population of older adults so they can serve them more effectively.

Patnaik and her team “impaired” participants with various conditions common to aging adults using common, household items. Nashville mayor Karl Dean stopped by the display to watch a demonstration. Participants wore eyeglasses that allowed them to experience the feeling of having macular degeneration, earplugs to simulate hearing loss and gloves to experience the loss of touch. They were also impaired with simulations of arthritic joints in the hands by having their fingers wrapped in bandages. Participants were also challenged to perform routine activities such as making a cell phone call and getting change out of their wallets while impaired with the simulated effects.

“It seemed to be a very powerful, eye-opening experience for them,” she said. “We received feedback from some who said they didn’t realize the deficit aging adults often operate with and that they take for granted that this population has different needs than others. It was a different industry than we’ve reached out to before and I think it was a good learning experience for themand for us.”

Andy Flatt (’84), chief information officer for Nashville’s HealthSpring, said exercises like the aging simulation are helpful reminders for organizations to tailor products and services based on the needs of different audiences.

“My organization serves the aging population,” he said. “The simulation gave me a perspective that I need to have and to be reminded of. It’s particularly good to have the tactile feedback. It’s a good reminder that we need to make sure that our website is easy for this audience to see, hear and navigate.”

Techville organizers said the aging simulation helped raise awareness of the needs of this growing population.

“With the number of people over 65 years increasing and that same group rapidly adopting the use of technology, companies are wise to recognize the competitive advantage of developing technologies that not only appeal to this market but are also easier for them to use,” said Liza Lowery Massey, president and CEO of the Nashville Technology Council, sponsors of Techville 2013. “Technology is so pervasive to all that we do and is increasingly the way we must do things - we simply can't ignore such a large and rapidly growing part of our population.”

This fall, the School of TransformAging will launch a new certificate program in serving the aging consumer to help leaders in a variety of industries learn more about how to meet the needs of aging adults.  In conjuction with the College of Bible and Ministry the School of TransformAging will offer a 15-hour professional certificate in Pastoral Care and Aging beginning this fall. This program is a great option for professionals serving in ministry roles in churches and other faith-based organizations, as well as to people of faith working in secular fields such as social work and education. 

“Aging services and products compose a growing field as the American population ages,” said Patnaik. “This program is an option for individuals and companies specializing in the production, development, marketing and sales of products and services to older adults in the United States.”

The School of TransformAging at Lipscomb University is designed to address the issues facing seniors and the individuals who serve them by finding lasting and meaningful solutions to America’s aging crisis. This crisis requires everyone to think differently about aging services and demands innovative leadership from all sectors, including education. The School of TranformAging offers an innovative multidisciplinary graduate certificate program and master’s program in aging services leadership that will help develop a new workforce that will passionately pursue careers with the aging and demonstrate a holistic skill set. It also serves as a neutral convener of conversations of significance regarding aging issues; provide useful and timely information and training for both professional and family caregivers; and serve as the catalyst for applied research and design for professionals in the field.

To learn more, call 615.966.1104 or visit www.lipscomb.edu/transformaging.