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Teaching Grandma and Grandpa New Technology Tricks

100-year-old-iPad.thecapabilityproject.comIf you're getting not-so-tech-savvy loved ones of any age new gadgets for  holiday gifts this year, take a page or two from the Penn Memory Center's Cognitive Fitness program lessons. They've been working one-on-one with a pilot group of participants, helping them use tech tools and other coping skills to counter memory issues. While sitting in on a recent Cognitive Fitness class, I watched as the instructors spent considerable time going over the various items the participants were learning to use, cell phones to iPads. WHYY Radio attended a recent class – get a peek inside their story.

The devices have definite perks that make them appealing gifts for seniors: e-readers are light and portable for people who do not want to carry lots of things around and make it easy to access books if transportation is problematic; iPhones and smart phones are fairly intuitive to use and great for directions or setting medication reminders; internet access allows you to find new (healthy) recipes or webchat via Skype to stay connected with loved ones far away; and email can bring photos of grandkids galore.
 
For gift-givers who have grown up surrounded by new technology, it's tough to understand how challenging it can be for tech newbies to learn to use their new devices. So, I asked the instructors for some advice.  Here's what they recommended for anyone teaching a loved one to use a new gadget -- memory issues or not.
 
1. Teach one tech tool at a time. Instead of teaching them how to use all the functions on their gadget at once, break it out into sessions. If adding contacts to a cell phone is a priority, start with that. Or, if adding a calendar appointment is a helpful tool, offer a separate lesson to walk through that process.

2. Be patient. Plan on spending a few sessions helping them learn, and space it out so they have some time to practice on their own between new sessions.

3. Write detailed instructions out. One Cognitive Fitness program participant photocopied his new remote control and annotated it, so he could have a reference guide to refer to if he couldn't recall the right button to press. Printouts of screen shots, showing people what icons to look for to check email, or what the calendar button looks like, are also helpful. 

a. If passwords are required, a handy password guide might be helpful (if stored in a secure, yet easy to find place).
b. Some people learn more if they write the instructions out themselves, in their own words and in a format that may be more intuitive for them. If they're a visual learner, drawing diagrams may work well for them.
c. Once instructions are written, the user should work through them step-by-step to make sure all steps are accounted for and identify any places at which they may get "stuck" in the process.

4. Practice makes perfect. Work with them to see if they can use the device on their own. For example, call and leave a voicemail, to see if they're able to retrieve it, send an email to make sure they can email you back, or call them via Skype to see if they can respond. It may take a couple of practice runs for more complicated instructions.

5. Build confidence. Technology can be overwhelming, so working one-on-one with a loved one can help them feel more capable and confident that they won't mess up or hit the wrong button. If they get overwhelmed, take a break and try again later, focusing on basic skills first to help them build their confidence.
 
While technology can be very beneficial, change can be unsettling. With any new process, it will take some time for your loved one to get used to making the new technology work for them.  Take the time to help your loved ones warm up to the new gadgets, and you'll both be happier.
 
Happy holidays!

Photo via www.thecapabilityproject.com

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