Jazette Johnson – University of California Irvine, USA

What contextual factors make older adults unique?

The standard American threshold to be considered an older adult is known as someone 65 years or older. Despite having significant life experiences, maturity, and wisdom, older adults may have challenges due to the aging of their physical and mental bodies. However, they all possess the ability to learn and gain new experiences. Although I am committed to accessibility as physical and cognitive capabilities change, access to technology or experience is just the first step. Like diversity initiatives of all kinds, we must go beyond accessibility to really ensure inclusion. In particular, as work shifts to less manual labor and increasing office labor, the experience of a 65-year-old looks very different than years before. These individuals may not be retiring yet, and they are highly accustomed to using smartphones and other devices. The context in which they are engaging with technology, thus may be highly variable in 20 to 30 years following the standard definition of an “older adult.”

The contextual factors in which I am most interested are related to access to information, technological security concerns, social interactions and moderate to severe health concerns. These combined factors contribute the unique experiences of older adults. For instance, an older adult can be living independently with mild cognitive impairment and a mobility impairment that causes this individual to not leave their home as frequently because of their inability to go out to socialize they being to use social media as a way to improve their social interaction. If we design for this older adult, there are multiple factors that matter to the wellbeing and continued safe independent living. Although many older adults experience decreases in their physical and cognitive abilities related to their age, as aforementioned, they all possess the ability to learn and gain new experiences and the limitations they experience are vast and varied, contextualized, and dynamic. Thus, I am interested in building on their wisdom and desire to live independently to balance challenges, such as mobility limitations and cognitive impairments.

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

Although older adults of today did not grow up with technology, the average older adult has some type of smartphone and uses these technologies to communicate with family and friends. In the coming years researchers will continue to leverage the advancements of technology more to design and develop for safe independent living. The challenges that may arise as the technology advances, we will need to continue to evaluate these technologies for the ease and safe uses to promote continued independent living. Challenge begin to arise when you begin to develop these technologies to be sure that they accommodate for the many factors that older adults experience day to day.

What themes have you explored in your work?

My specific interests lie within designing technologies that allows older adults with dementia to navigate the transition between the time the older adult was first diagnosed with dementia and understanding how technology can be designed to help these individuals continue establishing independence during this time. The time period within the first year after diagnosis is one of the most critical parts in the progression of their diagnosis because these individuals may battle with continuing to live a safe independent lifestyle while also seeking support, access to information, and navigating social interactions. These ideas expand to the wider range of older adults because at some point in time these older adults need assistance continuing to live independently safely as well, but for older adults with dementia the need is required earlier.

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

I’ve been exploring engaging older adults as partners through co-design methodologies to understand the best ways we can design and develop technologies to support older adults who desire to live independently as all as possible. I have leveraged research guidelines presents by work conducted by Anne Marie Piper which involved conducting co-design sessions with people with dementia. In alignment with previous co-design work for older adults with dementia, within my research career I have found that developing for the general population can be difficult when dealing with a population where factors vary every day and by person, but with co-design sessions we have to ability to leverage the ideas and thoughts of a community that has been stigmatized to design new technologies with them.

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

When developing technology, safety and ethics should be a second thought, but as technology advances it will be difficult to regulate users and be sure that the technologies are being used in ways that the designer did not initially consider. This can lead vulnerable populations such as older adults to be affected by the safety issues of things that were meant to promote security, social interactions, and improve the quality of their lives. As HCI researchers we will need to be sure that these types of issues are accounted for in our designs for years to come.

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

As the technological literacy of older adults continues to expand, the applications of the future will also begin to leverage more of the technological advancements. We must also address issues of ethics, safety, and advocating for older adults with dementia because they are sometime not the center of the conversations needed for the development of future applications. I believe in the future we will be able to leverage more technological advancements in our interventions because the technological literacy of older adults is constantly increasing. As researchers, we will need to continue designing to accommodate for the multiple personal and environmental factors that contribute to the everyday lives of older adults.

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

As a first year Ph.D. student, this workshop will allow me to share conversations with people who have been working within aging and HCI. I explored designing and developing technologies for older adults and family caregivers in my undergrad and master’s programs related to HCI and aging. I am excited to take the next steps as a PhD student and would greatly value the advice and consideration this workshop might provide. Additionally, I am currently co-advised by Dr. Yunan Chen, who has experience working with the aging population but in a more medical informatics vein, and Dr. Gillian Hayes, who has experience in participatory approaches to research but has not focused on aging. Engaging with these workshop participants will add much needed expertise to my considerations at an early stage in my career.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

I have a background in Computer Science and a Master in Human Computer Interaction. Since my undergraduate career I have been interested in designing technology to support older adults and their caregivers by conducting participatory design session with professional caregivers to help provide information for designing a low-fidelity mobile application to provide information to family caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients looking to access information. During my Master’s degree I developed a system to help understand how older adults respond to reminders on a daily basis, this project provided guidelines designers and developers can design future reminder systems. As a Ph.D. student, I am currently working to understand how older adults with dementia seek support through online forums. I am also exploring research ways to incorporate way older adults with dementia in co-design sessions.