Why tablets work best to get seniors online

"The dexterity required to control a mouse is really hard for some older adults," says Shelia Cotten. "A certain level of muscle control is needed. And some older adults have shaking issues, in addition to muscle-control issues in their hands and arms." (Credit: iStockphoto)

A new study finds that tablets can break down some of the barriers that keep seniors from getting online.

In addition to being smaller, lighter, and more portable, tablets allow people to maneuver online without having to move and click a mouse.

“The dexterity required to control a mouse is really hard for some older adults,” says Shelia Cotten, professor of media and information at Michigan State University who led the research. “A certain level of muscle control is needed. And some older adults have shaking issues, in addition to muscle-control issues in their hands and arms.”

Cotten also says that in most cases, tablets are just easier to use, especially for people who don’t have a lot of computer experience.

“For the most part they are pretty easy to operate,” she says. “You don’t have to click on 12 different things to do what you want to do. It helps to ease their tech anxiety.”

The researchers also found that when an elderly person’s family recommended a certain type of tablet and helped them learn how to use it, that contributed to their computer-use confidence as well. They learned how to use tablets by watching others use them and also by playing around on the tablets themselves.

Getting online can help the elderly feel more connected to family and friends, as well as providing them with useful information. “For example, it allows them to be more proactive in their health care,” Cotten says. “They have access to health information, electronic medical records, and so on.”

[related]

Last year, Cotten and colleagues published research that found internet use among the elderly can help ward off depression.

“It’s all about older persons being able to communicate, to stay in contact with their social networks, and just not feel lonely,” she says.

Cotten says tablets will be increasingly used by older adults, noting the recent announcement of collaboration among Apple, IBM, and Japan Post to disseminate 5 million tailored iPads to older adults in Japan.

The National Institute on Aging supported the new work, which appears in the journal Education Gerontology.

Source: Michigan State University