Is UX Design Considering the Needs of Aging Parents?

A recent water cooler conversation with a UM colleague has stuck with me as it reflects an uncomfortable reality that many of us have or will soon face – the role reversal involved with aging parents. Older populations are rapidly expanding around the world, and innovative tools and product designs are increasingly needed to support them.

As usability practitioners, we are always thinking about how the tools and products we are designing work for everyone. The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050, more than one in every five people will be over 60 years. (source: World Population Aging, 1950-2050, Chapter II: Magnitude and speed of population ageing—PDF, 663KB)

As we age, our eyesight diminishes and physical health issues arise. Sadly, cognitive difficulties, such as memory and reasoning are also common. Evidence of these challenges often shows up in financial transactions – bills are forgotten and payments missed. The elderly can also be an easy target for fraud or are simply less adept at seeing through email scams.

Is there anything that we in the user experience design world are doing to help our aging parents avoid financial troubles and intervene if necessary?

  • Online banking can be a great way to keep an eye on parents’ finances. Online banking can allow you to watch for suspicious activity and set-up automatic payments so bills don’t get forgotten. Set this up together so parents can see what you’re doing and still feel in control.
  • Money management and budgeting tools such as Mint can take this a step further. You can use these to set up an early warning system that notifies you of certain types of activities like excessive or questionable purchases.
  • Tracking and blocking tools, primarily found in the US, such as True Link Prepaid Visa go beyond monitoring and actually block certain types of purchases or only allow approved purchases. They can send automatic spending alerts and even allow you to approve transactions or lock the card via text. (Interestingly, there are very similar products for teenagers too.) In my research, I was unable to find similar products in Canada.

Discussing financial details with elderly parents can be challenging, and all of the above points raise additional thorny questions of surveillance and privacy. The aim should be to achieve a balance between financial independence and children’s concerns about their parent’s financial well-being.

As usability designers and UX specialists, we need to ensure the tools we are designing and developing are truly helpful and accessible. The reality is that while widespread connectivity offers significant potential, we really need to take the time to understand and address users’ requirements and create solutions that support the entire circle of care and support.