An important factor to be considered with old age is cognitive decline. This information processing technologies need to be centered on factors that define cognition. This article highlights some of the important conceptual models and theories that govern the design of such systems. The main focus is to look at the different information processing technologies that are presently used for enabling better functional performance. As the nation's baby boomers grow older, there exists a growing demand for a good support system that can ease their burden. Technology is ubiquitous in most social contexts in the United States and other industrialized countries and has become an important part of everyday life as an integral component of most activities. The advent of technology has shown promising results in various fields such as the delivery of care and in-vehicle driving technology by focusing on the needs of older adults and placing them at the center of this transformation. Such systems would work in favor of improving and empowering not just the elderly but also their families while reducing some of the burden on them and increasing independence. Yet there continues to exist a digital divide amongst the elderly population with less use of technology causing them to become disenfranchised and disadvantaged.
Although older adults are increasingly using technology, a number of published papers indicate that they typically have more difficulty than younger adults' in learning to use and operate them. The successful adoption of technology is becoming increasingly important for functional independence and the requirement to use new technologies is becoming pervasive in the lives of adults both young and old. Older adults are now more than ever faced with a wide range of new technologies on a daily basis. Thus an important task in the field of gerontology is to develop training tools that can aid and improve accessibility for older adults. What makes this complex is the need for creating age-specific tools that match the cognitive and perceptual capabilities of the age group.
Cognitive capabilities refer our mental abilities by which we pay attention to the world, interpret the information around us, learn and remember, solve problems and make decisions. Age-related differences in cognitive functioning have been known to stem from the reduction of cognitive resources available, thus impairing older adults' ability to carry out cognitively demanding tasks. Cognitive aging causes a change in mechanism related to information processing and working memory function. According to Craik, these mechanisms are responsible for age-related speed of decline in performance for mental processing along with a reduction of online cognitive resources available at any given time to process, store, retrieve, and transform information (working memory), focusing on a target, paying attention, and sensory processing of information. This is important since the inherent relationship between cognitive abilities and technology adoption points to the importance of ensuring that system interfaces are well designed and easy to use. The use of information processing theory in cognition looks at the role of the three stages of memory related to retrieving information, transferring and recalling. Cognitive information processing focuses on different aspects of instruction and how those aspects can either facilitate or hinder learning and memory. It emphasizes using strategies that focus the learner's attention, promotes encoding and retrieval, and provide for meaningful, effective practice across learning environments and curriculum.
Information processing theory is an approach used to study cognitive development evolved out of the American experimental tradition in psychology. Developmental psychologists who adopt the information-processing perspective account for mental development in terms of maturational changes in basic components of a child's mind. The theory is based on the idea that humans process the information they receive, rather than merely responding to stimuli. This perspective equates the mind to a computer, which is responsible for analyzing information from the environment. According to the standard information-processing model for mental development, the mind's machinery includes attention mechanisms for bringing information in, working memory for actively manipulating information, and long term memory for passively holding information so that it can be used in the future. A primary focus of information processing is on memory. The most widely accepted model is called 'Stage Theory' based on the work by Atkinson and Shriffin shown in figure 1. The model focuses on how information is stored in the memory in three stages. In this theory, information is thought to be processed in a serial, discontinuous manner as it moves from one stage to another.
Technologies are compensatory systems that can be used to support cognitive decline and impairment and thereby improve performance. They range from simple home reminder systems to sophisticated robotic support systems. While there are numerous technological interventions at present being developed, there continues to be an increase in the amount of research and work that focuses on providing compensatory support for a number of executive functional impairments for the elderly. Early work on prospective memory aids and assistive devices investigated the application of commonplace technologies which were inexpensive, easy to use, and had no social stigma. Due to the inherent limitation of such devices, there was a need to design portable devices that provide cues and relevant information effective as memory aids. Listed below are some of the information technologies that have been developed:
|IQ Voice Organizer||The technology is a pocket size device that allows verbal messages to be recorded and played back audibly at any time|
|Data Link Watch||The device is a system that consists of a wristwatch and a software program for a PC that stores the user's schedule and important medical information that can be used to remind the user in the form of alerts|
|Cell Minder||The technology helps track users schedules and reminds them by calling them on their cell phone|
|Memory Aiding Prompting Maps (MAPS)||Allows communicating user information with caregivers and clinicians in order to record users schedule and automatically contact doctors if problems arise|
|Task Guidance System||For users with severe cognitive impairments that can be programmed and customized towards guiding users tasks in the form of prompts|
The future of information processing technology lies in creating context dependent devices such as his or her physical and social environment. If the device was aware of the user's location, for example, it could give reminders relevant to that location. Information about the user's environment might also provide clues to the device on what reminders might be important or unnecessary. Social cues might allow the device to know when a reminder would be inappropriate; such as when the user is talking with another person and might not want to be interrupted.
There are many, more recent theories concerning information processing that differ from the stage theory model, and today, research and study continue to modify existing beliefs in this area of cognitive psychology. Despite the fact that there are commonly accepted pieces, the complete picture of how information is processed continues to change.
Levels of processing: One of the first alternatives to the stage theory was developed by Craik and Lockhart (1972) and labeled the levels of processing model. Specifically, the levels of processing theory hold that memory is not three-staged which separates it immediately from the stage theory model.
Dual Coding Theory: Another theory in the information processing debate is Paivio's work in dual coding. This theory gives equal significance to both verbal and non-verbal processing and suggests that there are two separate systems for processing these types of information.
Schema theory, parallel distributed processing, and connectionist models: Rumelhart (1980), working in conjunction with others, developed the schema theory of information processing and memory. He suggested that a schema is a data structure for representing generic concepts stored in memory.
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