Older adults experience barriers to using technology designed to help them manage chronic conditions. Members of minority groups are more likely to experience barriers. As the son of a diabetic, over many years SC&I's Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Charles Senteio has observed and supported his father by explaining and showing him how to use technology. Given his understanding of the literature describing barriers, he thought that there was a potential to describe how to better support older adults’ use of technology. He formed a team to develop a research project which could help develop a possible solution: pairing older adult African Americans with younger relatives who could address barriers to technology use designed to help them manage diabetes.
Senteio, working with colleagues Denise Soltow Hershey, Ph.D., and Terrance Campbell, M.S., M.A., designed a study to match these two groups and observe the results. Working in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, Campbell’s hometown, they recruited older adults with diabetes and their younger adult relatives, ages 18-25, to help them design and health information and technology use intervention in which the younger participants showed older adults how to use technology to manage their diabetes care.
The study team finalized the intervention then conducted multiple sessions at each study site in order to observe them working together during a three-hour period. Several months later, Senteio and his colleagues contacted the older adult participants to discover whether they had continued using the technology they learned during the study. The most rewarding aspect of the research, Senteio said, was, “debunking the myth that older adults are not interested in technology.”
The most novel part about the study, Senteio said, was the method they used to design the intervention. In conducting Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), Senteio explained that researchers simply cannot “put flyers up” but that they “must first develop relationships with individuals and communities with the intent to sustained collaboration.”
Senteio and his colleagues published their findings in the abstract titled “An Approach to Design an Intervention to Promote African Americans’ Use of Technology for Diabetes Self-Management” In Oxford Academic’s journal Innovation Aging. The paper is currently under review. Last fall the American Public Health Association (APHA) awarded them the Betty J. Cleckley Minority Issues Research Award honorable mention for their paper. Although Senteio could not attend the ceremony because he was conducting a roundtable presentation at the APHA annual meeting, he and his colleagues were presented the award at the conference awards session held in San Diego on November 12, 2018.
According to the APHA website, “The purpose of the award is to recognize individuals in aging and public health research who have made a significant impact on the lives of older people who are members of minority groups. Minimizing health disparities and improving access to health and long-term care services are important issues for minority populations in the U.S.”
When asked what Rutgers students could do to help teach their older adult relatives how to use technology to manage their health concerns, Senteio recommends being patient, because they generally are interested in learning about technology, so keep things simple, and let them try things for themselves.