three A prototype study
The idea for the study
When the lead author (Shelia Cotten) was a faculty member at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), she became interested in how different generational groups used computers and the Internet. One spring day in 2005, she was contacted by an older man who was interested in the potential of laptop computers to help older adults stay connected with others. He invited her to visit a Jewish retirement community in Maryland where he had been doing some volunteer work with older adults. She visited the community, met the man who had contacted her, and talked with a couple of people he had worked with. The individuals residing at this retirement community reported learning how to use the computer with assistance from others. They reported playing games, searching for information, and using email to write to their family members. Dr. Cotten wondered if teaching older adults in different types of retirement communities to use computers on a larger scale would be possible and feasible. She began to investigate what was known about older adults and technology use in preparation for planning the study detailed in this chapter. After doing much research, meeting with various administrators in different types of communities, and learning a great deal about older adults and the health issues many of them experienced, she pursued funding from the National Institute on Aging to conduct a randomized controlled trial to determine whether computer training for older adults in assisted living communities could positively enhance their quality of life. Funding was received in 2009, and the 5-year project began.
Although our experience and insight comes from within the context of a 5-year research study, the lessons learned are applicable for designers who want to develop and introduce new products, policymakers who recognize the value of large-scale technology interventions, facility managers who want their residents to benefit from technology use, and anyone attempting to implement technology instruction/intervention programs within CCRCs. In some ways, if it is possible to do this type of program within the constraints of a funded research study, with all the attendant rules and requirements, it is certainly possible, and perhaps easier, to do so without such constraints. As this chapter details, we were able to conduct multiple 8-week technology training programs for older adults in CCRCs while coming from outside the organization, having few examples to follow, being constrained (once they were finalized) to our existing materials and assessments, and using what today seems like outdated, oversized, and not very user-friendly technology. The information gleaned through preparing and implementing this trial was substantial. In this and other chapters of this book, we present key considerations for others who wish to implement interventions and trainings in similar contexts.