This post offers guidelines that can help you create websites that work well for older adults, the fastest-growing group of Internet users. Besides sending and receiving email, older adults also routinely search for health information. As the baby boomers age, the number of older adults using the Net will continue to grow.
Four Key Points to Consider During Physical Therapy Website Design[info_box]Action Items
- Keep it Organized-Break information into small, manageable sections.
- Make sure you write for senior viewers too.
- Number each step and give clear instructions.
- Minimize the use of medical terms and technical jargon.
1. Organizing Web Information for Older Adults
Many older adults have had little training in the use of computers and the Internet and are unfamiliar with the way information on websites is organized. In addition, changes in working memory may affect their ability to simultaneously grasp, retain, and manage new information. Declines in perceptual speed can increase the time it takes to process information. A website with a simple design, uncluttered layout, clear labels, and short sections of information can make it easier for older adults to select content, absorb and retain what they read, and avoid information overload.
Make it clear how the information on the website is organized.
Users should easily be able to determine what information your site offers and how it is organized. They should be able to figure out a starting point and predict what type of information a link will lead them to. It should also be clear how they can find more information as well as how to return to previously visited pages.
Keep the website structure simple and straightforward.
A broad and shallow site hierarchy reduces complexity and makes it easier for visitors to learn how information is organized.
Break information into short sections.
Giving people a small amount of content at one time makes it easier for them to grasp and recall information.
Write a clear, informative heading for each section.
Clear headings give people anchors on the page and help them select desired content. For example, headings can be:
- Back Exercises
- Knee Conditions
- Rehabilitation After Hip Replacement
Action Verbs (“ing” words)
- Caring for Stroke Patients
- Making Your First Physical Therapy Appointment
- How do physical therapists help with back pain?
- What causes arthritis?
Put key information first.
The most important information should be located where people can find it most easily—at the top of the website and at the top of a web page.
Put the sections in logical order: Think about how older adults might look for information.
Provide a site map: Make sure your sitemap includes every page.
2. Writing Online Text for Older Adults
Age-related changes in text comprehension can make it harder for older adults to understand written material that is not expressed in a straightforward or concrete manner. Changes in attentional functioning may make it more difficult for older people to stay focused on specific information and eliminate distractions. Many older adults may be unfamiliar with technical language and jargon. To keep the text senior friendly:
1. Limit the number of points you make.
Stick to one to five messages in each section. Keeping your information brief can make it easier for web users to stay focused.
2. Put the key message first.
Putting the main message at the beginning ensures that your website visitors will see it.
3. Keep paragraphs and sentences short.
Paragraphs should express one main idea. Sentences should be simple and straightforward.
4. Write in the active voice.
The active voice puts the focus on people and actions.
Things to Avoid and Some Possible Alternatives
Avoid: Prescription medicines are taken by many older adults.
Use instead: Many older adults take prescription medicines.
Write in the positive.
Be especially aware of words that have negative meaning such as “forget,” “until,” and “unless.” Instead of combining them with “not,” rewrite the sentence with a positive word.
Avoid: Don’t forget to take your medicine.
Use instead: Remember to take your medicine.
Explain clearly; don’t make people guess what you mean.
Avoid: Restaurants that offer senior discounts may be a good choice for older adults who like to eat out.
Use instead: If you like to eat out, go to restaurants that offer senior discounts.
Address your web users by using “you.” A direct instruction like “Exercise every day” is one way of writing for your web users, but not every message you want to give is such a direct instruction.
Avoid: No matter where a person is, a sudden fall can be startling and upsetting. If someone falls, that person should stay as calm as possible.
Use instead: Whether you’re at home or somewhere else, a sudden fall can be startling and upsetting. If you do fall, stay as calm as possible.
Choose words your web users know. Minimize jargon and technical terms. Write in simple language. For example, to describe a place to exchange messages with other older adults on a website:
Avoid: Online Community
Use instead: Communicate with others online
3. Make Sure Instructions “Can’t” be Misunderstood
Give specific instructions. These examples tell people exactly what to do:
- Repeat the exercise 10 times.
- Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.
- Exercise twice each day.
If the instructions have more than one step, number them.
How To Do a Calf Stretch
- Sit securely toward the edge of a sturdy, armless chair.
- Stretch your legs out in front of you.
- With your heels on the floor, bend your ankles to point toes toward you.
- [The steps would continue like this.]
4. Avoid Medical Jargon and Unfamiliar Terms
Define unfamiliar terms. If you need to use a term that most older adults do not know, define it when you use it.
Active Range of Motion (AROM) – the patient lifts or moves a body part through range of motion against gravity.
Isometrics – muscle contraction without joint movement.
Provide summary information. Summarizing information reinforces it and helps with recall. If you repeat information at different places in your site, make sure the messages are consistent.[note_box]Baby Boomers are big consumers of physical therapist directed services. It makes good sense to consider your audience when putting together your physical therapy web design and development plan.[/note_box]