With new devices, applications, and websites popping up daily, new possibilities are arising for us to use technology as a means of bettering our health and well-being. In particular, devices such as iPads and other tablets create new opportunities for older adults to become more engaged both mentally and socially. For some, using an iPad may even empower them to play a more active role in their healthcare. While many of the potential benefits of using technology later in life have yet to be explored in research, I believe it holds great promise.
Applications and tools such as Facebook, instant messengers, and email may serve to easily connect older adults with loved ones, while also closing the generational gap between themselves and younger family members, grandchildren, etc. However, social media sites and email only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to seniors and iPad use. Advancements in both technology and research have led to an abundance of innovative applications supporting older people, including those with varying dementias, history of stroke, depression, and so on.
Through my work with the Regional Geriatric Program, based out of St. Peter’s Hospital, I have been fortunate enough to engage with many local seniors and teach them how to use iPads. In doing so, I have been able to witness firsthand the benefits that can arise for seniors who learn to use technology.
While visiting a local retirement residence several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to work with a 78-year-old resident who had recently suffered a stroke. Within 15 minutes we had downloaded a free app called “This is to That” and had worked through a series of logic puzzles. When I came back the next week, I was amazed to see how much of an improvement there had been for him. Not only had he improved his accuracy and response time to the logical reasoning questions, he expressed to me that he felt a sense of accomplishment from using his iPad.
Over the course of the winter I have seen countless other seniors connect with their iPads to accomplish a variety of meaningful goals. Some of the outcomes include:
- setting up online banking
- watching educational YouTube videos
- borrowing an eBook from the Hamilton Public Library’s application
- video calling family members in other provinces and countries
- reading informative articles about health, lifestyle, and finances
- logging physical activity into a fitness application.
As exciting and multifaceted as these accomplishments may seem, they still only begin to scratch the surface of what older adults may achieve when they engage with iPads and similar technology – particularly for those with diverse mobility and accessibility needs. Unlike some laptop or desktop computers, portable iPads and tablets are very accessible. Many come preloaded with “text-to-speech” software, enabling seniors to have their device read text aloud to them – a feature that has been quite useful for those with visual impairments, or difficulty with reading comprehension. Additionally, stylus pens can be highly effective in assisting those with fine motor impairments or tremors navigate the touch screen. The ease of access also allows users to complete tasks that would otherwise require them to make a trip into the city (i.e. library, bank), from the comfort of their residence – a benefit that is especially useful during long Canadian winters.
As mentioned, many of the practical uses seniors may find for their iPads have not been fully explored or documented. Although, feedback thus far suggests that the 65+ community is excited to learn iPad skills, and that mental stimulation and knowledge acquisition are among the greatest advantages they are experiencing as a result. It is my hope that as more seniors connect to the digital world we will be able to better integrate technology into programming and practice for our aging population going forward.
Rachel Weldrick is a Program Coordinator at St. Peter’s Hospital and McMaster University. You can follow her on Twitter @RachelWeldrick