When That Screen Starts to Look Smaller

Source: 
The New York Times
Published: 
08/03/2008

 

The New York Times

 

Career Couch

Q. You enjoy your job and are productive, but as you age, some things you do each day — like reading e-mail or recalling names and facts — can be challenging. Is this normal?

A. Yes. Common changes that occur with aging are weakened vision and hearing, and less physical and mental agility. “These are not things to be embarrassed about, they are just age-related changes,” said Robert E. Roush, a gerontologist and the director of the Texas Consortium of Geriatric Education Centers at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Q. Even with reading glasses, it’s a struggle to see the computer screen clearly. What can you do to make it easier to read?

A. Healthy older workers often have trouble reading print on a computer screen, said Tara A. Cortes, president of Lighthouse International in Manhattan, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting vision loss. An eye specialist can prescribe special lenses for computer work, and increasing the font size on documents and e-mail will help. “Software like MAGic and ZoomText magnify the text and images on a screen, change background colors, make contrasts sharper, even read text aloud,” she said.

Use the largest monitor possible and increase your lighting, Dr. Roush said. “By the time you are in your 50s or 60s, you need 30 percent more light to see clearly than when you were younger, so get a desk lamp or a floor lamp,” he said.

Q. Hearing people on the phone or during meetings, especially in restaurants, is difficult. What can you do — other than asking them to speak louder?

A. “A combination of overall hearing loss and decreased ability to filter out background noise is often a problem as we get older,” said Janet B. Reid, co-founder and managing partner of Global Lead, a management consulting firm in Cincinnati that specializes in generational diversity. Consult with a specialist to see if you need a hearing aid. If you don’t, but are still having trouble hearing, suggest that you meet with clients in their office or in a conference room and have meals brought in, Ms. Reid said.

To help with hearing on the phone, including your cellphone, consider switching to an amplified phone or attach an amplifier to your current phone. The Jitterbug cellphone from GreatCall Inc. is made specifically for older people and has louder-than-average speakers and an ear cushion to reduce background noise.

Q. Occasionally, you are at a loss for names, facts and dates that were once at your fingertips. It’s also becoming difficult to focus on several tasks at once. What’s happening?

A. After age 40, recall ability decreases, said Vincent Fortanasce, clinical professor of neurology at the University of Southern California and author of “The Anti-Alzheimer’s Prescription.” “As people age, their mental agility, which is the ability to multitask and the speed of thought processes, and their mental capacity, which is the overall store of knowledge, decreases,” he said.

You can increase your mental agility by exercising the brain. “You don’t need special games; you just need to keep trying different things, like eating with your left hand instead of your right, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or memorizing all the phone extensions in the office,” Dr. Fortanasce said.

Q. Sitting in your chair and working on the computer for hours makes your back and neck ache, and your knees and fingers stiff. How can you remedy that?

A. Make your workstation as comfortable as possible. Get a desk chair that is designed for lumbar support and that also has arms, so you can support yourself getting into and out of the chair, said Marion Somers, a geriatric care consultant in New York.

Put a stool under your desk so you can stretch your legs, and attach a wireless headset to your telephone, which will allow you to walk around your office or cubicle while talking, Ms. Reid said. An ergonomic keyboard and padded wrist rest can make typing easier.

Q. Although working as you grow older presents certain challenges, don’t some things improve with age?

A. Absolutely. Because older workers have been through many business cycles, economic ups and downs don’t cause them to panic, Ms. Reid said, and they make more reasoned decisions than less experienced colleagues. They also tend to have more confidence on the job, relate better to colleagues and clients, and are likely to enjoy their work more, Ms. Somers said.

A mature brain has the advantage of experience, Dr. Fortanasce said. The wisdom that comes with age enhances our decision-making abilities and social skills in the workplace.

Q. You have to talk to your boss about your changing needs. Should you worry that you will be seen as high-maintenance or feeble?

A. Most employers are very open to accommodating requests from employees with specific needs, said Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues at AARP. Inform your boss that the changes will make you more productive at work, she said.

And rather than placing the problem at your boss’s feet, have a solution in mind so you can explain what you need and why, she said.

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