The Positive Effects of Tablets on Seniors Living with Cognitive Decline

In the past few decades, technology has grown to a point that was unimaginable to past generations. What was seen in sci-fi movies of the past is now the norm for the millennials. Young people today grew up with technology and probably can’t even imagine a life without their smartphones. How could they get around without a GPS? How would they connect with the world without a smartphone? Smartphones and tablets have changed life as we know it, but many of us certainly associate them with younger people.

Technology is ever changing, and we as a society are constantly finding new uses for it, whether it’s in the household, for fun and games, helping us navigate our way through an unfamiliar town, or to improve communication with loved ones who live too far away to visit. They are valuable life tools, and it is important to consider how these new technologies can benefit seniors, especially seniors living with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

While it may be hard to imagine a senior adult in their 80’s or 90’s playing games on an iPad, this idea is not as far of a stretch as one might think. Although the use of this sort of technology with seniors living with dementia or Alzheimer’s is not yet common in care homes, many professionals in the field are beginning to realize the benefits that tablets and other devices offer to our aging population.

Recent studies have been published on this topic by peer-reviewed scientific journals, as well as universities such as The University of Worcester in the UK, and their findings demonstrate that seniors facing cognitive decline derive significant benefits from working with tablets. The Senior Department here at the JCC has implemented programs using them and we have seen these benefits firsthand.

As we all know, cognitive disorders often affect a person’s short term memory, while leaving their long term memory intact. It is also understood that after a repetition of 7-10 times, new information becomes encoded in our long term memory. This same rule applies to seniors, so given the chance to learn a new skill through repeated application, they can still master it despite their cognitive impairments. And while their skills may range from high to lower functioning, tablets can be used in multiple ways to benefit them, regardless of their level of comprehension. Simple puzzles and pattern games can be completed by low functioning participants, and they are great activities to introduce, as they are often visually appealing to seniors and rewarding to them to complete. High functioning participants can use tablets for more complex activities: playing games, reading, photography, videos, typing, etc.

In addition to enhancing quality of life for seniors, tablets are also known to reduce anxiety. Preloading these devices with a participant’s favorite songs, or calming pictures or videos, can help alleviate their anxiety or elevate their mood. So tablets are a great tool for staff, caregivers, or family members to rely on when a participant or loved one is in an agitated state.

Here at the JCC, we have observed an interesting thing. After using tablets to complete puzzles or play word games, our senior participants began to do them without any instructions. And we were amazed to see that some of them even discovered a way to back out of the puzzles or apps to choose others on their own. We saw how much fun they were having and we have now begun to incorporate tablets into more of our activities and have witnessed some incredible benefits.

To begin with, tablets offer a form of technology to seniors that is new, exciting, and stimulating. It allows them to participate in activities that keep them engaged and gives them a sense of personal reward.  It gives them the ability to connect with loved ones they don’t get to see on a frequent basis, and it gives them skills to bridge the gap between older and younger generations. Our seniors are visited by children in the JCC early childhood center, as well as students and young adults, and now that they use tablets, we witness them bond while watching YouTube videos together and playing games. Family members have also reported that they are using tablets at home with the same bonding results.

Recently, our senior group discussed Mount Everest in one of our travel programs, and a few days later, one of the seniors came back to tell us that she told her family about the discussion and how it really sparked a deeper interest in Mount Everest. Her excitement sparked her young granddaughter’s interest as well and it led to a wonderful conversation that otherwise may not have ever happened. At one point, they decided to pull out the tablet and did some further research together using apps such as Wikipedia, YouTube, and Google Earth. It allowed them to bond and share and learn together, which is truly impressive.

As technology continues to develop and improve, we are sure to see a steady growth in the positive benefits of technological literacy for people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.  The JCC senior department is proud to be on the forefront of the use of such technology in caring for the aging, and we cannot wait to see the progress that the future holds. 

Jill RosalimskyWilliam Roberts, ARC Recreational Therapist
As the Recreational Therapist for The JCC ARC Program, William develops and implements engaging physical and cognitive therapy programs for seniors. A graduate of Montclair State University, with a BA in Psychology and Sociology, he has been working with seniors in assisted living and memory care communities for six years, creating new initiatives to benefit the wellness of seniors in the community.