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Editor’s Note: Platinum Perspectives on Usability and User Experience

One of the major shifts of the “naughty oughties” or whatever we should call this millennial decade, is the inevitable increase in the number of senior citizens as the baby boomers of many countries reach their golden years. Japan has known for years that it will have the largest proportion of senior citizens of any nation on earth within a few decades. Greater numbers of products and services targeted to the elder citizens of the world are already emerging. Older people continuing to work and live vital, engaged lives makes the new 65 equal the old 45. Seemingly, societal norms, government policies (e.g., regarding retirement and social security payments), healthcare, education, transportation, entertainment, and more, all are affected. What does that mean for our profession and specifically, for our subjects of expertise? Geriatric usability and user-experience skills, knowledge, principles, theories, philosophies, publications, and centers of education and practice can all be expected to grow. This era is an exciting and rich opportunity for our profession.

Many medical, social services, and healthcare professionals already know much and have even more to share with our own professionals. We have a great deal to learn as the context in which the elderly live continues to evolve. Thanks to many technology and socio-cultural changes, to become old is not necessarily to become as limited, frail, and sickly as we have experienced from our previous generations of elders. There are even movements afoot to recognize, in some youth-fixated consumer cultures, the wisdom of elders with which some countries/cultures never lost touch. Things are looking up for those in their later years of life.

Our issue explores the subject of seniors. Nancy Frishberg served as special guest editor. For some of our readers, the content may be a revelation. For others, the articles will affirm and confirm what some professionals know from current and past experience, but will, I trust, shed new light on subjects of great importance to those researching, designing, and evaluating products and services for the elderly. We look at what we know about older users, how memory and learning are affected by age, what we should know about designing physical spaces for those suffering from dementia, as well as an exploration of the digital divide and field research techniques.

This issue looks at life both in the physical world and the digital world. The articles include reports of research, interpretation, literature reviews, summaries of interactions with our peers and our senior customers, and contributions from many authors new to UX magazine.

We open with these questions: who counts as an “older adult” and what ideas have we attached to the notion of aging? Our colleagues from the W3C project on accessibility invite us to engage with the research they’ve reviewed to understand how similar and different aging is from other “disabilities.”

Recent experiences in the field with older adults yield suggestions about how to prepare and conduct visits in the home. As we consider Web 2.0, where user-contributed content and connection with friends is paramount, what barriers to adoption do we expect for older adults today or in the near future?

Our notions of aging may include the attribute “prone to forgetting” as often as “wiser than youth.” Adam Gazzaley shares his experimental results to reframe forgetting, and Pat Siple helps interpret those results for creating user interfaces in hardware and software. One article reaches back to the previous issue’s transportation theme to consider “wayfinding.”

We would be remiss in focusing on aging and older adults if we did not address the end of life. Our book review considers how dating after 80 shakes up the whole family structure. Fairy tales inspire lyrics to a song from an adult to his godfather, and our final editorial asks “who decides when enough is enough?”

Our issue’s authors are making important contributions to changes in our society as well as in our profession. The role of seniors, their responsibilities, rights, costs, and benefits, have important implications for the policies and focus of attention not only for our every day life, but for our professional organizations and the conduct of our own profession. Join us now as we explore these issues. Whether or not you are a member of the senior set, in due course of time, you will be. You might want to read now to learn what’s coming up.