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4 Research Gaps, Opportunities, and Priorities A review of the literature and collective components made by the participants in the workshop led to the conclusion that there are very large gaps in the basic knowledge needed to mount a concerted attack on human factors problems ~ aging. There exist enormous opportunities for improving the lives of older people through the application of human factors analysis and engineering. For example, there is great promise in putting powerful electronic and communication technologies to work ~ the homes of older people or In facilities dedicated to older adults, and the tech- nology ~ both easily available and affordable (e.g., the emergency re- motely activated phone beeper to call for medical Instance). These Opportunities can be realized, however, only if the needs of the elderly are accounted for in the design of these systems. Similarly, technolog- ical developments should make it possible for older people to remain in their homes rather than having to be placed in institutions, but this is a goal that call become a reality only if we understand how people spend their time at home and what types of difficulties they encounter there. Our conclusion is that there are three basic arenas of opportunity for research: (1) distributional data on activities and problems in conjunction with (2) task analyze and establishment of functional norms of characteristics and abilities and (3) basic science. DISTRIBUTIONAL DATA As suggested in Chapter 3, we need detailed information on how 64
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RESEARCH GAPS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND PRIORITIES 65 people of various age groups spend their tune. We need to know what types of activities people engage in, how frequently they engage in these activities, and what types of problems they encounter when attempting to pursue them. We also need to know why they choose not to engage ~ certain activities. Such data can be gathered initially through interviews, questionnaires, and analysis of existing records, such as accident reports. TAS1[ ANAIYSIS To fully understand how age-related changer in function affect the performance of tasks and activities, more ~n-depth analysis of these activities is required. Task analysis is a comparison between the Lemmas generated by ~ task or situation and the capabilities of the person(~) involved in the task/situation. This comparison al- lows for a specific identification and analysm of problems likely to be encountered in task performance. This analysm can, in turn, lead to the development and testing of intervention strategies. For ex- ample, analyzing the v~ual-motor problems that actuary contribute to automobile driving quality and safety would almost surely lead directly to the development of visual testing instruments and proce- cures that would be a tract improvement on today's techniques. Using task-analysm methodology would not require scientific or technolog- ical breakthrough; rather, useful results could be achieved based on thorough analysm and concerted iterative development. To thoroughly understand problems and develop design solu- tion~, more complete information is needed on how capabilities change ninth age, particularly normative data on characteristics and capabilities across the age span. Better suthropometric and biome- chanical data for older populations are also needed, as well as infor- mation for other functions, such as memory and reaction time. BASIC SCIENCE OF AGING AND BE:lIAVIOR The third arena for research opportunity is basic science. There is a need for improved knowledge of sensory and perceptual abilities with respect to the performance of tasks or the use of equipment in particular environments. For example, we need to understand better how the decline ~ logical and spatial cognition that occurs with aging affects the ability to use computer technology. Similarly, increased knowledge of hearing abilities is needed in order to design
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66 HUMAN FACTORS Rl3SEIARCII NEEDS FOR AN AGING POPU~UON better hearing abbe. Co~r~rnerciaDy available hearing aids employ surprisingly primitive technology, one that is not much informed by detain of the different kind of hearing lom or by analysis of the deficit ~ a given m~ividual. A whole spectrum of new testing and device technology is warranted and will require extensive human factors attention. However, prior to the evaluation of any such new technologies, art effort ~ needed to understand more fully the nature of cognitive and perceptual age deficits and the kinds of prostheses that can help overcome them. It ~ likely that many difficulties associated with aging stem from similar underlying causes ~ the interaction of changed abilities with clanged circumstances. This suggests that the resolution of any one problem is likely to point the way to resolutions for many others. One particularly important domain is the analysis of cognitive functions, such as learning, memory, perceptual recognition, judg- ment, and problem coloring. The research literature (e.g., Salthouse, 1987) suggests that there ~ not a universal decline of cognitive skins with age. The data indicate that, while some cognitive skills deteri- orate, others remain constant or improve with aging. In many tasks it appears likely that people are able to compensate for aggregated declines by substituting skim that have not deteriorated. Salthouse has provided a good example of this in his examination of typing. Much more thorough investigation of changes in cognitive functions ~d of potential adaptive strategies ~ warranted Wren that many of today's jobs are charactet~zed by a large information-processing component. PRIORIES Our judgment of the order for research on human factors Ed aging ~ expressed by the order In which we have discussed them here. We think the most ~rnport~t priority ~ to gather good distributional data on tasks, problems, ~d abilities and to perform detmied task analysis where the benefit is likely to be the greatest (e.g., daily living activities). This kind of information is the foundation on which the development of practical solutions wiB rest. Detailed knowledge about the problems actually encountered by older adults ~ of critical importance. Many effective human fac- tors responses almost certainly exist already and could be put into effect by existing health and service agencies with dramatic eject.
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REHEAR GAPS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND PRIORITIES 67 Commercial interests, ~ well, would be quick to ~rnplement design solutions to import ant widespread needs once they were known. Hu- man factors researchers would respond rapidly to the challenge of identified problems. Therefore, what we call for ~ a set of data collection activities that would provide information on functional ca- pabilities over task ecologies and the initiation of average longitudinal research to establish age-related norms for ergonomic parameter of particular relevance, such as dynamic strength, motion range, Cocos motion ~d balance, fine motor control, overhead reach, speed, and twisting strength. These efforts should be supplemented by detailed task analyses for the whole range of activities of daily living, in- cluding, for example, bathing, dressing, shopping, reading, watching TV, telephoning, writing, walking, and driving. Surreys must not neglect to ask aging people themselves about their dissatisfactions with their enviromnents and abilities and about their conceptions of a better-designed world. We see no reason, however, why the three elements of needed research problem assessment, human factors analysm and engmeer- mg, and basic science should not be pursued vigorously at the same time, since there is no strict hierarchical dependency among these activities. Moreover j since there already exist sources of Finding (though not entirely adequate) for basic and applied research of these km~, what ~ most needed ~ an orientation of research interests to" ward aspects that are especially relevant to our aging population. Thus, for example, although research on rehabilitative medicine and prosthesis eng~neer~g ~ very active, it could profit enormously from greater mput from human factom anadysis, evaluation, and design and Tom specific consideration of the rehabilitative or aid problems preferment among old people. The field of cogmti~re science ~ To in a state of great activity =d rapid adduce. It would be possible to take advantage of opportunities for advancing science, ~ well as for contributing to a socially significant problem, by paying explicit attention to the differential cognitive effects of aging.