Senior citizens in the 60 to 90 year age bracket are currently involved in a new revolution, a digital and electronic revolution. These older adults are using tablet computers in a brave new world as a tool of discovery. Tablet computers radically change the way seniors communicate as they adapt to new ways of conducting their lives. Many seniors who had never used an iPad or other type of tablet computer joined a scientific study at the Center for Longevity in Dallas, at the University of Texas.
The study “Training Older Adults to Use Tablet Computers: Does It Enhance Cognitive Function?”was published by the Oxford Journals for the Gerontological Society of America. Three different groups were part of the study. One group was given iPads and trained on their use along with the various applications already on the units. Another group participated in social activities, like card playing, bowling and dancing, but were not taught anything new, while the third group was given non-challenging activities to do at home. Their activities consisted of reading magazines, watching movies, completing knowledge-based word puzzles, and listening to music. The study lasted for 12 weeks. The participants were in the 60 to 90 year age range.
Denise Parks, co-director of the Center for Vital Longevity, explained that the group that acquired knowledge using the iPads learned new skills that would not be left behind, and also showed memory function improvement. As a cognitive neuroscientist, Park’s field of study is how the mind ages and what the parameters are for maintaining cognitive performance. Using an iPad was an important tool in this study, but the act of learning new skills made the difference in the cognitive functions of the minds of the seniors.
The purpose of the study was to gain evidence that learning new skills for older adults enhances memory. The theory of the study postulated that training and use of a tablet computer might produce two benefits, by improving comprehension and introducing skills that are useful for seniors to enhance everyday functions.
The iPad group displayed greater memory improvement, was quicker to process information, and gained new skills by learning to operate technologically advanced equipment. None of the three groups showed any greater mental control than either of the other two groups involved in the study. Older adults who are given the opportunity of learning new technological skills may enhance their everyday activities. The use of tablet computers exposes seniors to online banking, emailing, video chatting, and social media as new forms of communication, thus expanding their horizons without leaving home.
Linda Adams is the adult services librarian at Charlevoix Public Library in Northern Michigan. Adams described seniors who signed up for computer classes at the library as eager and engaged. When they learn how quickly they can access information on the Internet, they eagerly move forward and acquire other skills. Many older adults use new tablet computers for research, banking, staying in touch with far-flung family members, both young and old and push their brave world forward with the touch of their finger.
Several of the senior citizens participating in discussions at the Charlevoix Public Library in Northern Michigan about the use of tablets and computers had concerns about viruses, identity theft, and being hacked. Sue Ann Bouwense, project director of Retired and Senior Volunteer Program in Charlevoix and Emmet counties, helped guide the discussions. Many of the seniors were well versed in email, Facebook, and online banking.
A member of Generation X (1965-1981), Teresa Correa, who also holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas’s school of communication, expounded on the findings of a Pew Research Center report “Older Adults and Technology Use.” The Pew Research Center is based in Washington D.C. and this report was published in April 2014. In the study it was found the types of media used to communicate differs widely between different generation groups. The Silent Generation (1925-1941) use the telephone, while those in Generation X and older use other means for communication from texting to email, or they use smartphones with their various offerings of text, voice or video.
Of the seniors using electronic devices, tablets and e-book readers are as popular as smartphones among the general population. According to the Pew Research Center study, seniors use tablets and e-book readers more frequently for social networking, FaceTime, Skype, and Internet banking.
Another successful method of getting today’s teens and seniors together is called Cyber-Seniors. Cyber-Seniors began as an undertaking by two sisters in Toronto, Canada, Macaulee and Kascha Cassaday, ages 16 and 18 respectively, when they discovered the communication gap between them and their grandparents. Their older sister, Saffron Cassaday, realized this project had broader implications and began filming the ongoing enterprise. It became a documentary film and teaching model.
By connecting in-the-know teens with the older population, both sides learn from the other. Teens help seniors implement electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, and seniors find these devices to be user-friendly. The seniors help teens communicate face-to-face in a comfortable and relaxed environment.
Teens learn to be patient, speak clearly and look at the person being spoken to. The teenagers seem to learn much about a different type of social interaction while the seniors became more comfortable with using today’s technology. The revolution has begun, with tablet computers in their hands and computing power at their finger tips, a brave new world is opening up for older adults.
By Andy Towle