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Physical problems of computers and smartphones

Motivation for the elderly to use computers is not just reduced by reluctance to learn new skills, but also by the principle ‘I have managed without it, so I do not need it’. The elderly are frequently unaware, or unwilling, to make online purchases as they do not appreciate the potential savings or cannot see the product in front of them.

Unfortunately, the efforts of many organizations to encourage older people to enter into the computer age is a mixed blessing, as for many it will initially be worthwhile, but eventually they will reach the point that they are extremely vulnerable to cybercrime and intimidation, precisely because they do not respond adequately to the challenges and threats associated with allowing electronic access into their lives.

Apparently the main computer and phone difficulty for alert elderly people is visibility, as they cannot focus for long at the distance of the computer screen, or have permanently blurred vision. Computers are designed by the young, for the young; visibility and manual dexterity are assumed to be that of young people. By contrast, a comfortable type size for the elderly is at least 14-point typeface, and both key spacing and button sizes needs to be larger than on a standard keyboard. An increase of around 50 per cent is helpful, but few people ever realize this. There are also more critical needs on the choice of colours on the screen. Our colour vision alters with age (not just failure of sensing the blue end of the spectrum), but also in discriminating between different shades.

I am still using the term ‘elderly’ very loosely, as in the UK we probably think this applies to anyone who is 20 years older than us, and certainly anyone who is retired (say, more than 65). Nevertheless, as part of ageing, physical problems develop, even if the mental state is excellent. Typically, hand control deteriorates, so touchscreens become tricky to use, and of course for those with large hands, or a lifetime of manual work and unfamiliarity with typing or computers, a lack of dexterity will isolate many sections of the population. These are all reasons there should be large keyboards for both computers and phones.

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