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By Johnson, Mary | Generations, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

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Johnson, Mary, Generations


Nurse robots, smart houses and cars, telemedicine, virtual family gatherings-the brave new world of technology meets an aging society. What are the implications for older people? Better care, greater independence, easier communication? Or depersonalization, threats to privacy, and a growing "digital divide" between tech-sawy younger generations and reluctant elders, between those who can afford the latest devices and services and those who can't?

The Generations editorial board has asked Sara Czaja and Richard Schulz to guide an examination of this pressing question. Czaja is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School and in the Department of Engineering, and she is also codirector of the Center on Aging. Schulz is a professor of psychiatry, director of the University Center for Social and Urban Research, director of gerontology and associate director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Pittsburgh. Both are at the forefront of efforts to ensure that current and future technological innovations fulfill their potential to improve the quality of older people's lives.

When Sara Czaja was an undergraduate in psychology, professors introduced her to the field of aging. "My older relatives were actually experiencing the situations I was studying," she says. "The community homes and facilities we visited at the time were not well developed or thought-out. This all resonated with me." She later earned her doctorate in human factors engineering, the study of human capabilities, characteristics, and limitations in relation to machines and the environment. The combination has been an excellent fit. "I'm interested in how we can apply what we know about the process of aging to the design of systems and environments to enhance their usability for older adults," she says.

Czaja is known for her research in aging and cognition, caregiving, human-computer interaction, training, and functional assessment. She is director of the Center on Research and Education for Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE), a collaborative project funded by the National Institute on Aging to make technology more accessible, useful, and usable for older adults. She is the author (with Fisk, Rodgers, Charness, and Sharit) of Designing for Older Adults: Principles and Creative Human Factors Approaches (Taylor and Francis, 2004) among many other publications.

"Technology in and of itself is not a solution," she says. "It must be integrated appropriately into existing programs and systems in order to work for older people, especially in the crucial areas of healthcare, productivity, and communication. …

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