As people age, these abilities may diminish as a result of changes in perception, motor abilities, and cognition as well as changes in memory and reading comprehension skills. Research on cognitive aging indicates that there are often deficits in the selective attention of older adults, meaning that they may have difficulty identifying what information is important. To alleviate such limitations caused by cognitive challenges, it is useful to direct attention to the specific parts of a message that are the most important. Older adults may also experience memory deficit and may have problems simultaneously processing information while reading text. Cognitive overload or information overload can tax working memory, which suggests the importance of not sending multiple messages in rapid succession and of avoiding overly complex instructions and jargon.

All of the factors described above can decrease the usability of cellular telephones by older people, which is a major factor in reducing the adoption of cell phones by this group. Fifteen percent of Americans do not access the Internet on a regular basis; most of these are older adults. Only 25 percent of adults 65 years of age or older have cell phones. Furthermore, owning a cell phone does not necessarily mean the owner can use the device. Older adults are not generally viewed as early adopters of new technologies, but it is a misconception that they are technophobes. Their choice of whether or not to use cell phones or other information technology depends on the technology’s utility and ease of use. Persons who are elderly will probably need to be trained not only to use the mobile devices but also educated about how useful the alerts and warnings system would be.


The importance that gender can have in people’s behavior during disasters was underscored by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, in which a large majority of fatalities in some communities were women and children.4 Many women drowned because they had not been taught to swim, in part because their customary role in the culture is to bring fish caught by the men to market. Another cultural factor involved in these drownings was the clothing customarily worn by women, in which they became entangled as they tried to escape the flood waters or search for their children. Children, who were most likely to be looked after by women, were also placed at higher risk.

In the United States, an important gender-based social pattern is that women are more likely than men to be the caregivers for children and elderly relatives, who are more likely to be at risk in a disaster. When


BBC News, “Most Tsunami Dead Female—Oxfam,” March 26, 2005.

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