Nigel Davies

Lancaster University, UK

What contextual factors make older adults unique?

There are many different definitions of older adults – typically focusing on either age or expressed in terms of life events. In my work I am not concerned with a rigid boundary but associate the term “older adults” with those typically aged 60+ and for whom age has started to become a factor that impacts on many aspects of their lives. For this group I identify four distinct factors that I believe make the group unique. Firstly, they are typically experiencing cognitive change (to a greater or lesser extent) that makes many tasks more challenging. Secondly, they are, or will experience changes in their physical abilities which will impact not just their ability to use technology but their ability to undertake many everyday activities. Thirdly, their support network is likely to change – meaning that as their friends and family age issues such as social isolation become increasingly important. Finally, this group has sufficient expertise and depth of life experiences to have strong opinions on the use of technology.

Why do you think aging is an interesting area to research?

Addressing aging is critical – medicine has enabled us to extend our lives but technologists must help ensure the value of this gift is realised. Work in this field is particularly challenging because it tends to target a demographic that is naturally conservative in its outlook with (often) limited disposable income. This means that rates of technology adoption are often lower than amongst other user groups. Moreover, while technology is in many domains is adopted first in work environments before making its way to consumers (once costs have fallen and the technology has been proven) there is no such pathway for systems specifically designed for older adults.

What themes have you explored in your work?

I have explored two themes in my research – designing mobile applications to support older adults (especially for addressing social isolation) and supporting human memory augmentation. Our work on designing mobile applications is, I think, interesting because we have sought to uncover the underlying system requirements rather than focusing exclusively in user interface issues. Hence, we seek to inform the design of future systems software for mobile devices such that it is better suited to the needs of older adults. An example would be in terms of how we manage power management and system updates. Most mobile device vendors assume that mobile devices are used in a predominantly “always-on” mode but our research suggests that many older adults power devices up “on demand”. This impacts on all aspects of system design from managing the distribution of updates through to the need to minimise boot times. My second area of work has looked at deploying technology in care homes to help provide memory augmentation for older adults suffering from dementia. We have conducted a year-long deployment of technology based on pervasive displays in this context.

What research methods have you used to engage older adults in the design process or otherwise elicit relevant design criteria?

I have used a combination of focus groups and long-term deployments. The deployments appear to work better than focus groups with the latter suffering from the recruitment and retention issues. I believe this relates to the perceived value proposition – there is often a misbelief that older adults have significant free time which is in fact typically not the case.

What aspects of aging, or what challenges in aging research, will continue to be relevant in decades to come, and why?

I believe that the key issues will relate to changes in the way we learn and remember as we age – particularly in the face of the rapid update cycles that we see in modern technology. Reconciling this tension between the desire for rapid innovation and stability will be a key challenge.

How will applications of the future differ from today for older adults?

Applications in the future will have to exhibit more stability. As the rate of innovation in computer science slows so it should be possible to develop systems in which the basic user interface and functionality does not change at current rates. This will be crucial to enable older adults to benefit from skills learnt earlier in life.

What are you hoping to get out of attending this workshop?

I hope to engage with a wide range of HCI researchers to discuss the broader system implications of their work so that I can use this to help shape research in this area. My concern is that at present we treat HCI issues as distinct from many underlying system issues whereas in practice a holistic approach is needed.

Bibliography/ References

Knowles, Bran and Bull, Christopher Neil and Davies, Nigel Andrew Justin and Simm, William Alexander and Bates, Oliver Emile Glaves and Hayes, James Niall (2019) Examining Interdependencies and Constraints in Co-Creation. In: dis 19. ACM, New York. (In Press)

Mikusz, Mateusz and Davies, Nigel Andrew Justin and Shaw, Peter Andrew and Bull, Christopher Neil and Knowles, Brandin Hanson and Hayes, James Niall and Introna, Lucas Daniel (2019) Supporting Older Adults Using Privacy-Aware IoT Analytics. In: Living in the Internet of Things: Cybersecurity of the IoT. Living in the Internet of Things: Cybersecurity of the IoT . IET. (In Press)

Neumann, V., & Davies, N. A. J. (2018). Policy Brief: Privacy implications of technologies to address social isolation amongst older adults.

Bull, Christopher Neil and Simm, William Alexander and Knowles, Bran and Bates, Oliver Emile Glaves and Davies, Nigel Andrew Justin and Banerjee, Anindita and Introna, Lucas Daniel and Hayes, Niall (2017) Mobile Age:Open Data Mobile Apps to Support Independent Living. In: CHI EA '17 Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA '17). ACM, New York, pp. 2410-2415. ISBN 9781450346566