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We have limited understanding of how older adults use smartphones, how their usage differs from younger users, and the causes for those differences. As a result, researchers and developers may miss promising opportunities to support older adults or offer solutions to unimportant problems. To characterize smartphone usage among older adults, we collected iPhone usage data from 84 healthy older adults over three months. We find that older adults use fewer apps, take longer to complete tasks, and send fewer messages. We use cognitive test results from these same older adults to then show that up to 79% of these differences can be explained by cognitive decline, and that we can predict cognitive test performance from smartphone usage with 83% ROCAUC. While older adults differ from younger adults in app usage behavior, the “cognitively young” older adults use smartphones much like their younger counterparts. Our study suggests that to better support all older adults, researchers and developers should consider the full spectrum of cognitive function.

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