Websites and senior clients: how accessible is your site to older generations?

By Henry Glass

Senior Advisory Group


A common misconception is that it is complexity itself that seniors have trouble dealing with. Seniors can grasp complexity just as easily as anyone else. It is the ability to re-cognate changes in those complex systems that they have difficulty with.

As we grow older, our brains age with us. These changes are often seen in the way that seniors interact with modern and fast-changing technology. Our ability to think quickly and adapt to changes in complex systems diminishes past age 70 and is even more apparent past age 80.

A common misconception is that it is complexity itself that seniors have trouble dealing with. Seniors can grasp complexity just as easily as anyone else. It is the ability to re-cognate changes in those complex systems that they have difficulty with. Through Web design mechanics, we know how to better avoid certain elements that make Web surfing difficult for our mature friends.

There are two basic ways that the brain solves problems using memory. The brain functions in a way similar to a computer. In a computer, there are two types of memory: a hard drive and random access memory. The hard drive acts as a long-term storage device for saving information that doesn’t really change much over time.

RAM is for immediate use and allows the computer to quickly access smaller portions of memory for short-term functions. In seniors, the "hard drive" memory is working just fine but as we age, our RAM doesn’t work as well as it used to. This makes it harder for seniors to adapt quickly to changes made in technology, because their hard drive lacks the necessary information.

There are different levels on which seniors use websites. Some rarely get online and when they do, it’s only to get specific information. Others get on frequently and are looking for social interaction or to contribute or receive information on multiple topics of interest.*

This means you should design your website to serve the needs of both of these types of seniors. In order to do this, you need to know a bit more about seniors’ preferences when it comes to websites.

Although it may come natural to us, many seniors aren’t used to navigating multiple pages to find the information that they need. They prefer to have a single page that provides everything that they want to access. They also can’t process a large amount of new information quickly, so having that page scroll so that it segments that information into smaller more easily processed bites makes it much easier for seniors to navigate.

Since new learning and changes to learned mediums of technology are difficult for people over age 70, particular needs should be taken into consideration with regards to seniors. If changes are to be made to your website, they should be done in small increments or the option of using the old website should be made available until the new site can be fully learned. If particular functions are to be added, an instructional video will help seniors better cope with changes in complex technologies. It can take over a month for seniors age 80 and over to relearn websites that they were once used to.*

Seniors tend to prefer a flat structure with a scrolling feature to one with multiple pages for back and forth navigation. Research would also suggest that seniors would be better able to navigate sites that worked and were designed similarly to sites that they are already used to navigating.

*Burmeister, Oliver “Websites for Seniors: Cognitive Accessibility,” International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society Vol. 8, No. 2, 2010, pp: 99-113

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