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.
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:
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:
Click here for more information on osteoarthritis.
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.
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.
Restaurants that offer senior discounts may be a good choice for older adults who like to eat out.
If you like to eat out, go to restaurants that offer senior discounts.
Some people find that talking to their healthcare provider can be helpful when deciding how to care for their hypertension.
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.
Prescription medicines are taken by many older adults.
Many older adults take prescription medicines.
High blood pressure can be diagnosed by your doctor.
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.
Don't forget to take your medicine.
Remember to take your medicine.
Don't avoid going to the dentist because your teeth feel fine.
Visit your dentist regularly even if your teeth feel fine.
Address your web users by "you."
A sudden fall can be startling and upsetting. If someone falls, that person should stay as calm as possible.
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.
Summarize key points. Summarizing information reinforces it and helps with recall.
Find out more about effective health communications at http://health.gov/healthliteracyonline/ .
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:
Change Text Size A A A
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:
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 .
National Institute on Aging
P.O. Box 8057
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057
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.