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The Aging Mind: Opportunities in Cognitive Research
detailed examination, and most of the research has focused on children or young adults rather than older people. Yet there is reason to believe that these contextual factors may become even more important with age, affecting ideas and expectations of how to age, norms of when to seek support or help, and decisions about whether to comply with advice, as well as the interpersonal and institutional supports guiding such decisions. Understanding the cognitive effects of life experience may have great practical importance because life experiences can be modified. Improved understanding may therefore lead to promising interventions to improve cognitive outcomes.
Technological Support for the Performance of Cognitive Tasks
Technology has long been used to change the context of behavior to help people adapt to declines in their capability to perform daily life tasks. Eyeglasses, hearing aids, and wheelchairs are among the most obvious examples. Recent developments in information and sensing technology promise to yield revolutionary new technological supports that can help aging individuals adapt to declining capabilities.
As computers become smaller, more powerful, and more easily embedded in other objects and processes (e.g., Norman, 1998), they provide the opportunity to devise new technologies to augment the adaptivity and functionality of the human user. An example is computerized eyeglasses that can enhance the peripheral field of vision (Jebara et al., 1998; see Fisher, Appendix D, for a discussion of additional possibilities). New technologies exist for sensing environmental variables, integrating environmental information (see also Abidi and Gonzalez, 1992), and planning possible actions or facilitating possible decisions in order to make a person's behavior more broadly context sensitive and thereby more adaptive. These technologies hold promise for maintaining the ability of older people to manage such tasks as driving motor vehicles (e.g., Hancock and Parasuraman, 1992) and operating automated teller machines (ATMs) and other technologies in spite of declines in sensory-motor and cognitive capabilities.
New technologies are also becoming available to assist with the information processing aspects of judgment and choice. For example, with the explosion of available information over the Internet, technologies to aid decision-making by reducing information overload are sure to proliferate. Some of these will address important life decisions facing older people, such as choosing health care providers and estate planning. However, these information-reducing technologies must be designed to fit well with users' capabilities and needs.
To make such technologies useful in practice, it is necessary to build understanding of the sensory-motor and cognitive processes the technologies are intended to assist and to address issues of information overload, distribu-