Tablets Open the Digital World to Older Adults

by Angel Carl, Right at Home, May 17, 2011

With more than 75 computer tablets showcased at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, one industry analyst has christened 2011 as the “Year of the Tablet.” Accompanying all the buzz over this new technology is the promise it holds for connecting the disconnected, including older adults who have struggled with setting up a personal computer, installing software and dealing with annoying error notifications.

Anyone who is intimidated by the prospect of mastering a keyboard and mouse on a traditional computer will appreciate the user-friendly features of computer tablets, which are typically half an inch thick or slimmer and often weigh less than two pounds for easy handling. Older adults also appreciate the intuitive interface of touch-screen digital tablets and the wide selection of apps (short for applications) and zooming features that enlarge text from a Web site or email in seconds.

When a 99-year-old woman in Oregon who had never owned a computer or a Kindle started using a computer tablet to read books and write limericks, “It changed her life,” according to her daughter. “You can enlarge the print, and it has a much brighter screen so you can read on it more easily than with a regular computer screen,” the daughter explained. At one senior living residence in Colorado, older adults have learned to use computer tablets as substitutes for crossword puzzles, books, newspapers, recipe cards, hand-written notes and shoebox photographs. The digital tablet even offers a touch-screen piano for residents to play.

In order to attract elderly users, one Japanese computer manufacturer is designing an inexpensive tablet especially for elderly online shoppers. With larger fonts and user-friendly features, the tablet will immediately connect the user to the online store of a major Japanese retailer with a simple touch of a “button” on the computer screen.

Researchers at the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that elderly Internet users over 65 years old are just as enthusiastic as younger users when it comes to using email and a search engine to look for information. “Seniors blossom into silver surfers if they have a family member who motivates them (pictures of grandchildren can be an awe-inspiring force) or, in the case of many men, if they had the Internet at work before they retired,” acknowledged an article in Slate.

A research study at UCLA indicated that Internet access and use can actually enhance brain function and cognition in older adults after just one week online. “We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function,” the study’s author reported. In a separate study, researchers at the Phoenix Center reported that spending time online reduced the incidence of depression among older adults by more than 20 percent.

If you or a loved one own a computer tablet, we invite you to share your story so others can learn from your experience.

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