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iPads in senior housing -- could be -- with help

Hype alert -- for senior housing residents -- iPads may both amaze and confound.  Caution -- this is not a review, even though I have a brightly lit iPad next to me as I write this text on a PC. I still love my PC because I've become fond its high feedback QWERTY keyboard with its easy-to-find punctuation, mouse access to grabbing text and URLs easily, and other conveniences that have rather grown on me over the years.  I admit to loving the iPad for reading a book, as a home music streamer, watching a movie on a plane, looking at my street from a satellite, and examining news sites.  But this is not about me. This is about the use of an iPad in senior housing settings. For example, check out this video made by a Colorado news station that shows an iPad tutorial for the over-88 senior housing residents -- which I just watched for the third time. 

What the video suggests to me -- support requirements.  The iPad can be great for seniors -- everyone says so. But is that so? For one thing, watch a resident try to hold it upright and share a peek with her neighbor -- does it look perilously balanced to you?  Okay, consider a folding stand case that keeps it propped upright for those with shaky or weak hands who might let it slip. Next -- note the helpful staffer providing step-by-step (or pinch-by-touch) guidance on what they're looking at, whether it's a crossword puzzle, a piano keyboard, or a satellite view within Google Maps. The staffer seems to be the key to enabling residents to 'slide to unlock' the iPad's mysteries, never mind its screen. Founder of Balfour Senior Living Community Michael Schonbrun believes that the iPad will keep residents mentally (and physically???) sharp. According to the video, Balfour plans to develop a check-out system so that residents can take them back to their rooms.  I am not so sure that's such a good idea -- first check out (and print out) an iPad for Seniors For Dummies Cheat Sheet.  Look over the Restrictions option under General Settings and consider disabling a number of functions, including Installing and Deleting Apps. Read some forums on limitations associated with administering iPads for groups.

Watching a fellow passenger -- maybe sticky note reminders might help. For those who've struggled with new user interfaces, lo, these many years, it was no surprise watching the 70's-plus gentleman on the airplane aisle poke, pinch, and trial-and-error stab at his iPad (first rev, he said, acquired right after the launch), so that he could switch from the user interface of his book to his movie to listening to an Elvis Presley song -- each of which had its own peculiarities, er, styles. Trial-and-error is not so bad, though -- unless it frustrates. Once tech staff has decided on an app selection and checkout process, maybe the next step might be tailoring an iPad cheat sheet plastic card attached to the case. And while setting up each and every iPad, be sure to evaluate and enable the Accessibility options for the visually or hearing impaired -- that's worth examining and learning about through videos and blogs of those who are using these options to maximum effect.

Technology never just drops in on little cat feet.  Three-fourths of the benefit comes from people -- evangelists like blogger Maurie Hill (above) or early adopters like Michael Schonbrun (the Balfour video) -- but also from activities staffrtd who first train themselves and then are passionate about overcoming tech administrator obstacles. For example, it appears that you must have a credit card on file with iTunes to download a free app like Virtuoso Piano so that an 88-year-old can tap out a tune. I do agree with Ellen in the video that a real P-I-A-N-O is best for playing the piano, but when that isn't feasible -- maybe the two-sided version of this app for simultaneous keyboard players (no kidding) could be mesmerizing, not to mention interactive -- or it could drive staff members insane. 

Wait and see? With more than 80 tablets bursting into the marketplace, maybe more flexibility for administrators in multi-resident user environments will be a key feature of those competitors who are intent on giving Apple some competition and may offer guidance on transcending iPad multi-user administration issues.  Tablets are portable and have glow-in-the dark back lighting, so they may be very useful for CCRCs, etc.  So go ahead, those who already know how best to deploy in a senior housing setting, speak up!



Hi Laurie, We have seen several Ipads within Senior Living communities within which we are in; such as Brookdale, Benchmark, Emeritus, etc. The touch interface is much easier for the seniors to use; easier than the mouse and keyboard. The ability to easily adjust the pictures and text is also a plus. The interface/input mechanisms are going to be one of the keys to adoption/engagement. As we get older, the mouse is harder and harder to control. As always, enjoy your articles and perspectives. Best, Ann Marie Connected Living

So Laurie's right about iPads and Seniors. Maybe the trick for use is not more supportive staff but some social entrepreneurism from young people who master these technologies readily. Kind of an intergenerational "reverse" mentoring that benefits both old and young: One teaches, one learns, they interact socially, and any dollars or credits earned get conveyed to NPs of choice.

There are a few of us "younger" people out here trying to do just that. As someone working in the training industry, I can tell you it's rare to find younger trainers/teachers who are willing to invest the effort to put themselves in the shoes of their elders. The tech sector, in particular, being so youth focused also doesn't help. But it can be done. It took me over 6 years to write my PC Primer, mostly because I had to work hard to find analogies and concepts that an older audience could relate to. I think I ended up learning as much as I hoped my readers would. It was an invaluable experience for me and caused me to become an advocate for tech newcomers.

I absolutely love this idea. I would love to see this done. I think grandchildren actually are better teachers of technology to seniors than the boomers. I have nothing to actually support that, but the intergenerational idea would be an amazing country "call to action". Seniors and the elder should not be left out of the conversation. We need to get them online. Not only does the "connection" have an impact on the individual's health, it opens up a whole new world of opportunity. Efficiency, access to services which can be difficult to get access to as we age, convenience, competitive shopping, education, entertainment and a whole lot of other free content.

After my father passed away, my mother had to learn to deal with the computer for the first time. Despite taking classes and getting help from her infinitely patient(not really) children, she still has never gotten the hang of it and so she just ignored the PC. The problem was that more and more friends and organizations are trying to communicate with her by email.

I borrowed a friend's iPad and gave it to her to try. She immediately picked up how to scroll long messages and seemed to get other aspects of the device so my siblings and I bought her an iPad for her birthday.

I'm frequently asked to do tech support for family and friends and so I use tools like LogMeIn, GoToMyPC and TeamViewer to remotely view their computers. That way I can see exactly what's happening. The problem is that there's no way yet that I've found to remotely control an iPad. When my mother has a problem, she has to describe the screen and it can get very frustrating for both of us.

For now, the iPad experience is not a success, but I'm hoping we'll be able to make it work.

On a side note, she has the iPad2 with the magnetic case. On day 1, she picked up the tablet by the case and it detached. The iPad went crashing to the floor. Fortunately nothing was broken, but I would recommend a more secure case.

Ben, your account sounds familiar. PCs seem foreign to many. You're right about classes. Often they don't help where newcomers need the most help... at the ground level. (I've found many books and classes skip right to application...."let's hurry up and learn to do X"... rather than explaining foundational concepts.) I got so frustrated at experiencing that with friends, family, and even coworkers that I finally broke down and wrote a book (just published) to help the "I truly know nothing" group of PC newcomers.

The iPad is actually a great invention and help at some level... as a consumption device. But PCs are still rule, for now, as the uber multipurpose productivity machine. We'll see if that gap narrows in the not to distant future.


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