Heath and Aging

Making Your Website Senior Friendly

Older adults use the Internet to send and receive email, keep in touch with family and friends, search for information, play games, and more. As the number of adults 65+ using the Internet—on desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones—continues to grow, web designers will increasingly be called on to tailor websites to seniors. 

As people age, vision and cognitive changes can make it more challenging to use these devices. Eyes become less sensitive and less able to detect light, color, and details. Cognitive abilities, including memory, perceptual speed, text comprehension, and ability to focus, decline.

Here are some best practices as well as guidelines based on research to help you create websites that work well for older adults.

Organizing Web Information for Older Adults

As people age, changes in working memory may affect their ability to 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 all web users—especially older adults—to select content, absorb and remember what they read, and avoid information overload.

You'll want to:

Make it clear how the information is organized. Keep website structure simple and straightforward. Information should display well and be easy to find on any kind of device.

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.

Break information into short sections. Give people small amounts of content at a time to make it easier to grasp and recall information.

Write a clear, informative heading for each section. Clear headings help people select desired content. Avoid headings with single nouns or noun phrases that have no subject or verb. For example: Exercise. Consider these types of headings instead:

Action verbs ("ing" words)

  • Caring for a Person with Alzheimer's Disease
  • Choosing a Doctor You Can Talk To
  • Eating Well as You Get Older

Questions

  • Who Should Exercise?
  • What Can I Do to Stay Healthy?
  • How is Cognitive Impairment Evaluated?

Make Web Information Easy for Older Adults to Find

Data tells us older adults are using the Internet more than ever before. But website skills that younger people seem to use intuitively—such as scrolling, swiping, clicking buttons and links, and using hamburger menus—may still be unfamiliar. In addition, advanced age may cause changes in spatial memory that make it difficult to remember where objects, like web page elements and buttons, are located. It is important for navigation elements to be consistent, explicit, and predictable. When designing your website, choose a template or theme that has the following features:

Page design

  • Use standard page designs (templates) throughout the site.
  • Put interactive tools, like the page title, print button, and search box, in the same place on each page.
  • Use the same symbols and icons throughout the site.
  • Avoid using features that may distract attention, such as pop-ups.

Navigation

  • Use consistent navigation throughout the website.
  • Structure navigation to ensure the fewest possible clicks are needed to achieve a given task.
  • Incorporate buttons, such as "Previous Page" and "Next Page," or hyperlinks for ease of navigation between related pages.

Menus

  • Avoid pull-down and fly-out menus.
  • Use menus that open and close with a click or screen tap.

Links

  • Write descriptive, easy-to-read links that help people predict what will happen next. Avoid the use of "click here." Instead, have the link include a description of what the user will find when the link is clicked on.

Avoid:

Click here for more information on osteoarthritis.

Use instead:

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in older people.

  • Use verbs to encourage people to take an action.

Avoid:

My account

Use Instead:

Go to my account

  • Do not underline anything that is not a link.
  • Use different colors to distinguish between visited and unvisited links.

Icons and Buttons

  • Use large buttons that do not require precise movements to activate, whether using a mouse or one's finger on a touchscreen.
  • Make buttons and icons stand out. Colors for buttons and icons should be different from the color of the surrounding text. Dark buttons and icons against a light background are best.
  • If a button includes a link, hyperlink the entire button, not just the text.
  • Include concise text labels with icons.

Clicks and Taps

  • Use single clicks or screen taps to access information.
  • Treat double clicks or screen taps as single clicks. That is, if a person clicks or taps on a link or button more than once, accept the first click and ignore the others.

Scrolling

  • Do not use automatically scrolling text.
  • Avoid bars or other horizontal features that may suggest the bottom of a page when there is actually more below.

Search

  • Display the search box in the same place on every page of the site.
  • Choose an easy-to-use search engine that does not require special characters or complex jargon.
  • Be tolerant of what people put in "Search." For example, offer alternatives for misspellings.

Contact Information

Provide a way to contact the site owner if people cannot find what they need. Offer a telephone number and provide an email address or Contact Us web form for questions.

Write Online Text for Older Adults

Changes in text comprehension, working memory, and focusing ability may affect an older reader's ability to absorb and retain content. Write web content that is easy to scan and understandable for audiences of all ages, including older adults who may be experiencing cognitive changes. To keep the text senior friendly:

Put the key message first. Put the main message at the beginning to ensure your website visitors see it.

Keep paragraphs and sentences short. Paragraphs should express one main idea. Sentences should be simple and straightforward. Keep your information brief to make it easy for web users to stay focused.

Explain clearly and be direct. Present information in a clear and familiar way to reduce the number of inferences readers must make.

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.

Avoid:
Some people find that talking to their healthcare provider can be helpful when deciding how to care for their hypertension.

Use instead:
Talk with your doctor about managing high blood pressure.

Use active voice. Active voice puts the focus on people and actions. Say what the reader can do.

Avoid:
Prescription medicines are taken by many older adults.

Use instead:
Many older adults take prescription medicines.

Avoid:
High blood pressure can be diagnosed by your doctor.      

Use instead:
Your doctor can diagnose high blood pressure.

Use positive statements. 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.

Avoid:
Don't avoid going to the dentist because your teeth feel fine.

Use instead:
Visit your dentist regularly even if your teeth feel fine.

Address your web users by "you."

Avoid:
A sudden fall can be startling and upsetting. If someone falls, that person should stay as calm as possible.

Use instead:
A sudden fall can be startling and upsetting. If you do fall, stay as calm as possible.

Define unfamiliar terms. If you use a term that older adults may not know, define it when you use it.

Kidney disease—also known as chronic kidney disease (CKD)—occurs when kidneys can no longer remove waste and extra water from the blood as they should.

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure.

Give specific instructions. These examples tell people exactly what to do:

Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity endurance activity on most or all days of the week.

If instructions have more than one step, number them.

How to Do an Ankle Stretch

  1. Sit securely toward the edge of a sturdy, armless chair.
  2. Stretch your legs out in front of you.
  3. With your heels on the floor, bend your ankles to point toes toward you.
  4. [The steps would continue like this.]

Summarize key points. Summarizing information reinforces it and helps with recall.

Find out more about effective health communications at http://health.gov/healthliteracyonline/.

Design Readable Online Text for Older Adults

Over time, our eyes become less sensitive and less able to detect light, color, and details. These age-related vision changes often make it difficult for older adults to read from a computer screen. Your design should keep these features in mind:

Space

  • Allow enough white space to ensure an uncluttered look.
  • Put a space between paragraphs.
  • Allow enough space around clickable targets, such as links and buttons, to make them easy to tap or to click with a mouse.

Typeface

  • Use a sans serif typeface. Sans serif fonts do not have projections at the end of strokes.

Avoid:

'this is a serif font'

Use instead:

'this is a sans serif font'

  • Use Arial, Tahoma, or Verdana fonts. These are popular sans serif fonts developed specifically for the screen.

image of Arial, Tahoma, and Verdana fonts

  • Use a standard (non-condensed) typeface.

Avoid:

'this font is condensed'

Use instead:

'this font is not condensed'

Type size

  • Make body text at least 16 pixels.
  • Make it easy for people to change the text size directly from the computer screen. Buttons for adjusting text size are often located at the top of a web page and may look like the following :

'text size' with a plus and minus button

Change Text Size A A A

Type weight

  • Use medium or boldface typeface.
  • For headings, increase font size and weight or use color. If you use bold for body text, make headings stand out with size or color.

Uppercase and lowercase letters

  • Use upper and lowercase letters. Avoid writing with ALL CAPITAL LETTERS—they take up space and are difficult to read.

Italics

  • Avoid using type in italics. It is hard to read, especially online.

Background/Contrast

  • Use dark type or graphics against a light background.
  • Avoid patterned backgrounds.
  • Make it easy for people to change contrast without having to use browser controls. Buttons for adjusting contrast are often located at the top of a web page and may look like this :

'contrast:' on and off radio buttons

Color

  • Use high-contrast color combinations, such as black type against a white background.
  • Avoid colors that clash. For example, dark blue on red is very difficult to see.
  • Avoid yellow and blue and green in close proximity. It is difficult for many older people to distinguish these colors.

Include Other Media

Because everyone ages differently, delivering information in a single format may not meet the needs of all older adults. For example, people with declining vision may find an audio format easier to absorb, and those who have trouble reading on a screen may prefer video. Consider offering these additional options:

Illustrations and photographs

  • Make sure pictures relate to the text. Visuals should support the text; they should not merely be for decoration.
  • Use pictures of older adults when talking about, or to, older adults.
  • Pictures of people should reflect the diversity of your audience.

Animation, video, and audio

  • Avoid making your site overly animated as it may be distracting.
  • Link to or embed videos on your site.
  • For accessibility, provide captions for videos and transcripts for audio files.

Make Sure That Older People Can Use Your Website

The first priority when building a website should be the user. In a usability test, you watch and listen as people from your target audience try to do real tasks on the site. This helps determine how well users can navigate your site to achieve their goals. Conduct usability testing while you are still developing the site to discover and correct problems early. When testing for usability:

You don't need a large number of participants. Just make sure the sample is diverse and represents your target audience.

Observe older adults using the website. Watch and listen without training, helping, or giving hints.

Test on multiple devices. Conduct testing on a variety of computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Take notes. Note where people have problems, ask questions, or get lost.

Conduct structured interviews. Usability testing generates quantitative data, such as time on task and success rate for task completion. After testing, interview participants to collect qualitative data. Ask open-ended opinion questions like, "What did you like or dislike about the site?"

Test throughout the design and development process. Don't wait until your website is fully designed before you conduct usability tests. It is harder and more expensive to make changes to the design at the end of the process.

Use what you learn. Revise the site and then test again.

Find more information about usability testing at www.usability.gov.

For more information about health and aging, contact:

National Institute on Aging
Information Center
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
800-222-2225 (toll-free)
800-222-4225 (TTY/toll-free)
www.nia.nih.gov

To order publications (in English or Spanish) or sign up for regular email alerts, visit www.nia.nih.gov/health

Visit NIHSeniorHealth (www.nihseniorhealth.gov), a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, it has large type and a "talking" function that reads the text out loud.

Publication Date: July 2016
Page Last Updated: July 15, 2016

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