Tablets helping seniors cross 'digital divide,' study asserts

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Sheila Cotten
Sheila Cotten

Recent research has shown the use of tablet computers among seniors has helped them break the “digital divide” barrier.

Elders who used tablets felt more confident with technology overall, according to a study conducted by Shelia Cotten, Ph.D., professor of media and information at Michigan State University.

Not only are tablets lightweight and portable, they are easy to use at any age. The simple touch screen helps elderly hands maneuver quickly without having to struggle to use a mouse, Cotten explained.  Also, the bigger screens make it easier for them to use than cell phones. Even with little computer experience, seniors caught on quickly, especially with the help of family members, she added.

Aside from reducing tech-anxiety, using tablets is beneficial to seniors' health. They can access health information, medical records and more. It has also shown to help ward off depression by making it easier to connect with loved ones.

The sample group consisted of older adults in an assisted living community who had tablets, and had participated in a larger technology study, Cotten said. From there, they found other contacts and scheduled in-depth interviews to find out what factors were important, what they learned from tablets and the benefits versus the challenges. 

“One thing that was interesting is that the older adults were a little territorial; they didn't like to share their tablets,” Cotten said. “But the sense of connection … they felt more connected to the world and not lonely.” 

While technology has become more prominent in the long-term care industry for staff members, facilities may start to consider supplying tablets to residents to help them stay connected. Apple, IBM and Japan Post have recently collaborated to get more older adults using tablets in Japan. 

“I think it's [use of tablets] going to increase across older adults in general, and in facilities because they are just so much easier to use.”