Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Think of the iPad for Your Elderly Parents, Boomers

I know that many Baby Boomers are still in the sandwich generation, caring for loved ones who now are elderly. It's been interesting to me to find out that some of us are using technology to enhance the quality of life of older people whose minds might be shining as brightly as ever, but who have some physical limitation that keeps them tethered to home or even in a nursing home.

In the past, it was difficult to envision packing mom or dad's expensive and fairly heavy laptop with them to go to assisted living, and impossible to figure out how to get Internet access for the laptop. However, with the advent of the iPad older people are bringing their connections to the outside world inside with them.

I recently watched a YouTube video and a news report showing a 99 year old woman with glaucoma rediscovering her love of reading and writing poetry using an iPad which lets her see the letters because of the contrasting screen. I also had been following some posts on the Boomer social networking site eons ( by a devoted daughter, screen named Techie44, who wanted to keep in touch with her 94 year-old mom even though the daughter would be spending the winter many miles away. I contacted Techie44 and asked if I could share her story and she graciously agreed.

In the beginning, Techie44 wasn't sure if the iPad would work for her mom, but she thought that her mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis and is in a nursing home, might be able to master it. I read through Techie44's posts as she weighed the pros and cons of getting what was then a brand new device for her mom. One thing was telling, however. Her mom was already familiar with email and wanted to have her email with her in the nursing home.

After showing her mother the family's iPad and how it worked, Techie44 ordered one for her with Wi-fi and 3G and set up her mother's email accounts to sync with the iPad. She also sent her mom some email so she could practice replying. Thinking about what would make her mom happy, she also loaded the iPad with the Christmas and classical music that her mother loves and put in pictures of the family, as well as some photos of the family camping vacations, since that's what her mom used to love to do.

Significantly, Techie44 signed up for Apple's MobileMe, an application that keeps mobile devices in sync. This was suggested to her by one of the other eons posters and it turned out to be very important. The iPad is the kind of device that can be picked up easily and just "walk out the door" of a nursing home. MobileMe has a feature called "Find my iPhone/iPad" and if someone walked away with the device, it could let Techie44 know where it is.

In an email, Techie44 told me she put a sticker on the outside of the iPad notifying everyone that it could be tracked and that she demonstrated how she could track the device to the people at the nurses station. She also told them that she would prosecute if the device were stolen.  Although she didn't tell me this, I expect she was hoping word of mouth would spread, and anyone thinking of walking away with the device would be forewarned. She also took the added precaution of selecting a pass code her mom could remember, so no one else could borrow the device.

Now I've always contended that MobileMe should be free, and not the $99/year product it is, but I'm willing to say that in this case it's worth the money. An added benefit of  MobileMe is that Techie44 can link her mom up to a "cloud" photo gallery, and the family can update and add pictures to it  from wherever they are, without having to load them directly onto the device. This was also pointed out by another eons poster.

So how is it going? Techie44's mom has arthritis, so hitting all the right icons and keys on the iPad is somewhat of a challenge, but she is managing, and enjoying the device. She does most of her typing herself but an aide helps her type long letters.  She's listened to her music on the device, but had a bit of a problem figuring out how to shut it off. Thinking ahead, Techie44 showed someone at the nursing home the ins and outs of the iPad so they could help her.

In addition, Techie44 signed her mom up for the Facebook app, so now "Granny" can follow her grand nieces and nephews on the social networking site. She also downloaded an app called iFish Pond that will help her mom pretend she is sitting by a pond when the weather gets cold.

Techie44 says that she made the right choice in getting her mom an iPad. A computer would  have had to sit on a table and her mother would have had to deliberately go to it. The iPad is easy for her mom to carry with her, and the 3G wireless solves the problem of getting Internet access in a nursing home, something that could prove to be nearly impossible.

One last thing: Techie44 says that the iPad has made a tremendous difference in the quality of her mother's life. She is connected to relatives she hadn't heard from for years and looks forward to receiving her email and photos from her family.  You can't find a more ringing endorsement than that.

I know the post above makes it look like I endorse the iPad or that I'm employed by Apple, but I assure you I am not. I simply believe that this genre of tablet has opened up a new era of computing and is beneficial for society. Many, many tablets are coming into the market soon, but right now Apple essentially stands alone. If the upcoming Linux Android tablets are as easy to use as the iPad, as this author predicts, they too will gain traction with the elderly and will add to the societal goal of helping them stay connected.


Greg Katz said...

That's really, great. Isn't improving quality of life the ultimate goal of any technology?

Anyway, I have my doubts that the Android tablets will be as easy to use as the iPad.

Anonymous said...

The iPad certainly has some great applications for seniors, but I excited to see what Android comes out with. Thanks for sharing!

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Mayks said...

OK I was very weary on the purchase of an IPAD 2 for my older parents, this was supposed to be my mothers 70th birthday present,my dad has always shied away from technology so the thought of him ever using it was a distant thought. Also being migrants from Italy the thought of them using it was concern.
Well!!! Just after 1 week they have taken to it like duck to water, they love it! My father is hilarious, he is always on it to the point I am thinking of getting a second one because my mother is not getting to it ha-ha. I am a huge believer in android in fact i have an ASUS Transformer and love it, best thing ever built...but for simplicity the iPAD is the way to go with my parents....keeps their minds really active! FANTASTIC!

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