Keeping Elderly Connected through Messaging Apps

3182 words (13 pages) Essay

8th Feb 2020 Health And Social Care Reference this


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1. Problem Statement

To improve quality of life for the elderly people, one of the challenges is to alleviate the feelings of loneliness experienced by many socially isolated elderly people. Loneliness is often associated with psychological problems, such as anxiety, low self-esteem and depression (Şar, Göktürk, Tura, & Kazaz, 2012). As elderly people represent an increasing age group of the population in Australia (AIHW, 2018), addressing the issue of loneliness and isolation is becoming more exigent because of its health ramification on the well-being of the elderly (Dahlberg, Agahi, & Lennartsson, 2017).

Messaging apps, a mobile application capable of sending instant messages to individuals or group of individuals, in the form of text, image, video and voice recording, has the potential to be part of the solution to social isolation and loneliness issue (Khosravi, Rezvani & Wiewiora, 2016). In Canada, a research conducted by Neves, Franz, Judges, Beermann & Baecler (2017) suggested that social connectedness can be established by using messaging apps. They had developed a mobile messaging app artefact, with an emphasis to explore its feasibility as a tool for ameliorating social connectedness among the elderly. Though similarities could be drawn from this research and mapped into Australian context, it should be noted that, in comparison to Canada, Australia has a larger migrant population with a broader ethnic background, across different age groups (AIHW, 2018).

While the ubiquitous smartphones have revolutionised the way we communicate each other and maintain social ties, the elderly are consistently falling behind in adopting mobile technology to gain benefits in various aspects of their daily life needs. (Carmien & Manzanares, 2014; Nikou, 2015). Greater understanding of issues and factors influencing acceptance of mobile technology, particularly messaging apps, by elderly people in Australia is warranted. Identification of these influencing factors would assist the development of a taxonomy for an ideal messaging apps to be adopted by elderly people. Ideally, enhanced messaging apps should promote an increase of messaging apps adoption, and thus foster greater social connectivity overall and reducing prevalence of loneliness in the elderly population.

2. Research Questions

2.1 Question 1

What are the limitations of messaging apps that affect its use or acceptance by elderly people in Australia?

  1. What is the context and how does this solve the overall problem?

Though psychological and sociological factors influencing the usage of mobile apps by elderly people are well-studied (Carmien, et al., 2014; Nikou, 2015), there is a gap in research to better understand the limitations of a messaging app that would affect its use or acceptance by elderly people. As Nikou (2015) pointed out, mobile apps are only useful and effective to the elderly if its functionalities and features are designed according to their needs. One of the barriers for elderly people to use mobile apps are inappropriate design to meet their needs: small font size, colour choices, icon and button size, etc (Kiat & Chen, 2015). Identifying these limitations can lead to enhanced messaging apps design and thus promote its use by elderly users.

  1. What is the contribution to knowledge?

Considering the lack of research of the usability and accessibility of messaging apps by elderly people in Australia, answering this question will contribute to the knowledge about what limitations of messaging apps that hinder the elderly people in adopting the messaging apps. Mobile apps can be difficult to use if its design does not address physical and cognitive impairment of the elderly people (Carmien, et al., 2014; Kiat, et al., 2015). This new knowledge can be incorporated into future design and development of messaging apps and thus improve its usability by elderly people.

  1. The method, process or technique

By setting up a focus group (Merton & Kendal, 1946) involving 20 elderly people, a discussion would be structured to identify a set of issues and limitations of messaging apps that hinder elderly people from using it effectively. Participants are carefully selected to have a good representation from each demographic group (age, gender, ethnic background, etc.). The focus group would also consist of a mixture of messaging apps users and non-users.

During the focus group discussion, participants would be asked their opinions and perceptions about messaging apps. Afterwards, participants would be asked to perform some specific messaging apps tasks, and response with issues encountered when performing these tasks. Observation techniques could also be deployed to watch how non-users navigate around messaging apps for the first time. Messaging apps tested are WhatsApp, LINE and WeChat. Finally, participants are encouraged to contribute new ideas around improving intuitiveness of messaging apps. All comments and vital points mentioned in the discussion are noted and transcribed into writing.

Using content-thematic analysis (Vaismoradi, Turunen & Bondas, 2013), the main aim is to elicit themes and patterns of participants’ experiences. Collected feedback from focus group discussion are analysed and examined in detail. Responses are then coded and categorised into a collection of main themes, which would be further examined to identify patterns. A new theoretical model could be built from these themes to assist future messaging apps product development process.

2.2 Question 2

What are the sociodemographic determinants that affect the use of messaging apps by elderly people in Australia?

  1. What is the context and how does this solve the overall problem?

Given the elderly people are consistently falling behind when it comes to adopting mobile technology (Carmien, et al., 2014; Nikou, 2015), there is a need to examine whether correlations exist between sociodemographic characteristics of the elderly population in Australia and adoption of messaging apps. With this understanding, appropriate approaches could be developed to encourage the uptake of messaging app to maintain social connection with family and friend.

  1. What is the contribution to knowledge?

Adoption of mobile technology by the elderly people is often received less attention. Answering this question will provide an insight into whether there are any sociodemographic determinants that can undermine or strengthen the adoption of messaging apps by elderly people in Australia. With this dataset collected, new theoretical or statistical models could be built and used to explore new ideas around how messaging apps should be designed and configured to meet the need of a specific demographic group of users, especially elderly people.

  1. The method, process or technique

A data-oriented approach (Mackenzie & Knipe, 2006) will be conducted to collect and analyse data. This dataset will then be used to formulate statistical model to develop linear regression analysis to examine correlations.

Firstly, a literature review will be conducted to gather important demographic variables affecting adoption of mobile technology by elderly people. Using these, a survey would be developed to include these variables. The survey also includes questions about mobile device use and the range of mobile apps, including messaging apps, for which respondents use mobile devices with. The survey will be distributed out to 50 elderly people in Australia aged 65 years old or over, which is the official definition of an elderly in Australia. Survey would be available both online and paper version in order to encourage participation. Filled-up paper copy survey would be entered manually online.

A linear regression model will be formulated and fitted based on the survey responses to determine the associations between sociodemographic variables and adoption rate of mobile technology. In addition, a predictive model could also be built based on different types of demographic variables to predict desirability of using messaging apps by an elderly individual.

2.3 Question 3

What training could be provided to improve digital literacy of elderly people in Australia to enhance their adoption of a messaging app?

  1. What is the context and how does this solve the overall problem?

Research shown that one of the critical factors to improve technology adoption of elderly people is to provide them with adequate and quality training (Neves & Amaro, 2012). Therefore it is crucial to explore and review what training could be provided, and under what context, would help them to improve their digital literacy. Providing the appropriate training to meet the needs of the elderly would result improve willingness to use messaging apps, which would ideally keep them connected with families and friends.

  1. What is the contribution to knowledge?

By developing a new taxonomy for digital literacy education for elderly people, answering this research question could help education practitioners to strategise and design effective training program with consideration to their special learning needs and cognitive shortcomings.

  1. The method, process or technique?

A qualitative research process could be used involving semi-structured interviews to understand current outlook of education and training program offered to improve digital literacy of elderly people in Australia, which could enhance their adoption of a messaging app. Participants are selected from these three groups: aged care workers and trainers who are educating elderly people; geriatrician and academic scholars who have a vested interest in the well-beings and behavioural patterns of elderly people; and elderly people who may or may not have good familiarity with messaging apps.

Interviews would be mainly aimed at eliciting expert opinions and experiences of the interviewees. Each interview is scheduled to last from one to one and a half hours. Before each interview starts, the research purpose and voluntary nature of the interview would be explained clearly, and an informed consent forms would be distributed and signed by participants. All interviews are to be digitally recorded, with notes written down. Each interview would then be transcribed and made available for review by interviewees.

From these interviews, a range of factors could be identified that motivate elderly people in adopting a messaging app. Potential gaps could also be identified in current training and education programs which digital literacy of elderly people. Findings could lead to new taxonomy and recommendations for the digital literacy training which can form the foundation for a new education framework. This new taxonomy could be applied in designing or refining future digital literacy education program for elderly people in Australia.

3. Question Comparison

Question 1: What are the limitations of messaging apps that affect its use or acceptance by elderly people in Australia?

One of the advantages of answering this question is that it focuses on the technical aspect of the problem by identifying limitations of the messaging apps that could be addressed by enhancing usability of messaging apps. The data collection process is low cost with minimum resource needed to access opinions from a group of people in a short time, and the group size can be easily expanded if needed. However, this research question might not answer the problem completely. Beside mobile apps design, there are some other influence factors to be considered that affect the adoption of messaging apps by the elderly people (Azuddin, Malik & Abdullah, 2018). Also, collected opinions might be subjective and biased, and focus group has a dependency on the skills of the group moderator to facilitate the discussion effectively.

Question 2: What are the sociodemographic determinants that affect the use of messaging apps by elderly people in Australia?

Answering this question would establish an empirical model on which of the demographic and social variables are influencing the adoption of messaging apps by elderly people in Australia. Other advantages include it is relatively low cost to develop survey, and a broad range of responses can be collected easily and analysed. Though it should be noted that survey might not be easy to administer among the elderly people, especially those with cognitive impairment. Specialised statistical knowledge are required to fit statistical model correctly.

Question 3: What training could be provided to improve digital literacy of elderly people in Australia to enhance their adoption of a messaging app?

As one of the obstacles of using messaging apps by elderly people is lack of training (Neves, et al., 2012)., answering this question would provide an insight into what specific training programs are required by the elderly people to learn to use messaging apps. Opinions are collected from a comprehensive group of participants who has a vested interest in this area. By contrast, it could potential be costly and time consuming to run these interview sessions, and special request are required to access these interviewees. Specialised knowledge in the field of education for elderly are also required to build new training framework.


Assuming resources are only sufficient to answer one question, I would recommend question one to be pursued. Question one addresses directly the research problem from product design dimension, which could be solved relatively easy by enhancing the design of messaging apps. Good designed messaging apps should lead to improved usage experience. Ideally this outcome has the potential to significantly motivate elderly people to use messaging apps and thus keep them connected socially.

4. References

  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2018). Older Australian at a glance. Retrieved from
  • Azuddin, M., Malik, S. A., & Abdullah, L. M. (2018). The Influence Factors of Mobile Devices Adoption Among Older People. International Journal of Information Technology Project Management .
  • Carmien, S., & Manzanares, A. G. (2014). Elders Using Smartphones – A Set of Research Based Heuristic Guidelines for Designers. International Conference on Universal Access in Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 26-37). Heraklion, Crete, Greece: Springer, Cham.
  • Dahlberg, L., Agahi, N., & Lennartsson, C. (2017). Loneliner than ever? Loneliness of older people over two decades. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 96-103.
  • Khosravi, P., Rezvani, A., & Wiewiora, A. (2016). The Impact of technology on older adults’ social isolation. Computer in Human Behavior, 594-603.
  • Kiat, B., & Chen, W. (2015). Mobile Instant Messaging for the Elderly. 6th International Conference on Software Development and Technologies for Enhancing Accessibility and Fighting Infoexclusion (DSAI 2015).
  • Mackenzie, N., & Knipe, S. (2006). Research dilemmas: Paradigms, methods and methodology. Issues In Educational Research, 193-205.
  • Merton, R. K., & Kendall, P. L. (1946). The Focused Interview. American Journal of Sociology, 541-557.
  • Neves, B. B., & Amaro, F. (2012). Too old for technology? How the elderly of Lisbon use and perceive ICT. The Journal of Community Informatics, 1-12.
  • Neves, B. B., Franz, R., Judges, R., Beermann, C., & Baecker, R. (2017). Can Digital Technology Enhance Social Connectedness Among Older Adults? A Feasibility Study. Journal of Applied Gerontology.
  • Nikou, S. (2015). Mobile technology and forgotten consumers: the young‐elderly. International Journal of Consumer Studies, Volume 39, Issue 4, 294-304.
  • Şar, A. H., Göktürk, G. Y., Tura, G., & Kazaz, N. (2012). Is The Internet Use An Effective Method To Cope With Elderly Loneliness And Decrease Loneliness Symptom? Proceeding-Social and Behavioral Sciences, (pp. 1053-1059).
  • Vaismoradi, M., Turunen, H., & Bondas, T. (2013). Content analysis and thematic analysis: Implications for conducting a qualitative descriptive study. Nursing & health sciences, 398-405.

5. Reflective Statement

The weekly tutorials and preparatory tasks between week 6 and week 9 had helped me to enhance my understanding of the topics that had been taught during the lecture. I have learnt how to phrase a research question properly by being critical about whether it is answerable and solvable. I found that the group discussion related to formulating research question is particularly interesting. It helps me to have a chance to learn from others on how to construct research questions from different dimensions. By completing these weekly preparatory tasks, it helps to alleviate some stress built up towards the assignment week. Another challenge that I faced in this assignment is phrasing research questions appropriately. Thankfully Patrick made himself available after each tutorial session on Monday night to render his advice and some assistance on doing preparatory tasks and assignment. He reminded me that a research question could be approached from different perspective.

In addition, I found that there is an association between coming up with answerable research questions and refining problem statement. It is only through this thinking process of constructing research questions that I found some areas to improve in my problem statement. Nevertheless, I would still approach similar tasks in the future by keeping the same approach: first identify the problem statement, then keep refining it by considering it together with the research questions.

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