Visiting scholar discusses how technology and aging intersect

Fozard: Environment changes how people age

Video gaming skills didn’t come easily for James Fozard. After all, as a product of the 1930s, the technology available to him during his formative years was no more advanced than the rotary telephone. He watched his first television program at the age of 1.

So playing car-racing video games with his young grandson was not easy.

“Grandpa, you’re not very smart,” the child would tell his grandfather, an accomplished scholar of gerontechnology who studies the relationship between aging and technology.

But when the family invested in a Wii, Fozard says he was more able to adapt to the technology. He could control the games by using natural body movements he was used to, and his grandson had to admit, “Grandpa, you’re not so dumb after all.”

Wii video game technology helped Fozard connect with his grandson. And Fozard predicts that similar adventure-style gaming technology will play an increasing role in helping older people adapt to the aging process.

“Gamification,” or the way gaming technology is used for education, health, work and communications, is one example of the intersection of technology and aging that has an increasing impact on generations living longer in an age of rapid technological development.

“There’s no question that this is one of the fastest-growing areas of technology,” Fozard said. “If you are looking for new ways to explore technology, this would be a good career choice.”

Fozard spoke Monday about how longer lives and technology are changing the way people live. This was the first of two lectures sponsored by the Institute for Visiting Scholars Program and the College of Social Work.

For the first time in history, Fozard said, the old-age end of the world population spectrum is increasing faster than the younger end. And changes in the environment — including technology — can actually change the way people age, he said.

“I’m interested in studying and helping understand the interplay between how I’ve aged over the past 80 years and how you’ll age over the next 60,” Fozard said in an interview with The Daily Gamecock. “Your aging will be quite a bit different than mine because of the environment in which one ages.”

The key to technology’s role in aging is not to prevent aging, but to help people age more gracefully, Fozard said.

“Technology has done an enormous amount to help us monitor and understand how to help maintain a healthy lifestyle,” he said in his lecture.

As examples of graceful-aging technologies, Sue Levkoff, an endowed chair in the College of Social Work whose research interests focus on the aging population, pointed to the use of robotics and apps geared toward helping people “age in place.”

“Our worst fear is to go into a nursing home and die in a nursing home,” Levkoff said. “And so the technologies of today are trying to develop things like smart homes and smart environments so that people can age in place in their homes and environments and communities where they’re comfortable.”

A scholar on aging visiting from the University of South Florida, Fozard will speak again next Monday about technology and aging. And in the spring, he’ll lead a series of workshops helping students and faculty develop local projects using technology to modify the aging process.


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