Predictors of Successful Communication With Interactive Voice Response Systems in Older People

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Interactive voice response (IVR) systems are computer programs that can interact with people to provide a number of services from business to health care. However, surveys examining people’s attitudes toward these systems have consistently found that people in general and older people in particular strongly dislike these systems. We wanted to determine the memory and cognitive abilities that predict successful IVR interactions for older people.


We compared the performance of 185 older adults (aged 65 and older) on normed cognitive tests (the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale fourth edition and the Wechsler Memory Scale fourth edition) with their performance on 4 real-life IVR systems that included fact-finding at governmental agencies and plane ticket reservation.


The results indicated that adults aged 65 and older experience significant difficulties in interacting with IVR systems. A significant number of people (20.5%) could not complete any of the tasks. Participants who could not complete any task were older and had the lowest full-scale IQ. However, there was little difference between the age of participants who completed 1, 2, 3, or 4 tasks. Rather, auditory memory and working memory were the best overall predictors for success in IVR tasks.


The impact of poorer auditory memory and working memory is compounded by programming practices that increase the demand on these abilities and create unnecessary difficulties. Successful use of IVR systems could eventually complement in person health services.

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