A therapy traditionally used to aid children with autism spectrum disorder has instead been applied by a Brock graduate student to introduce seniors to technology.
Jacqueline Pachis, who graduated in June from Applied Disability Studies with her Master of Arts degree, devoted her thesis research to using the principles of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) to help older adults in retirement homes learn to use technology to connect with friends and family.
The older adult population, she said, is under-researched when it comes to the use of ABA.
Pachis hoped to address a common misconception in her field — that ABA can only be used to aid individuals with autism spectrum disorder or other intellectual and developmental disabilities.
To conduct her study, Pachis used iPads, purchased with funds granted by Brock’s Council for Research in the Social Sciences (CRISS), to teach three older adults living in a retirement home how to use FaceTime, YouTube and e-mail.
“These apps were particularly relevant and useful to learn, as they have the potential to enhance social interaction and communication with family and friends,” Pachis said. “They also provide a source of entertainment, which may help improve quality of life.”
Comparing methods of instruction was another important component of the project. Pachis offered participants both written instructions and video demonstrations.
While all three senior participants were more accustomed to following text-based instructions, two soon found that they preferred to learn by video prompting. The third felt the video moved too quickly, whereas the text allowed for self-paced instruction.
All three participants embraced the technology. Those who didn’t already own tablets purchased new ones after the study was completed, and planned to continue using their favourite new apps.
“All the participants were really fascinated with FaceTime. At first, they couldn’t believe that you could talk to and see the person through the screen in real time,” Pachis said. “They also really enjoyed listening to music — mainly Elvis Presley — and watching video clips of classic movies on YouTube.”
Pachis shared her findings at the 43rd annual convention for the Association for Behavior Analysis International held in May in Colorado. She was honoured with the Senior Student Presenter Award from the Society for the Advancement of Behavior Analysis.
Her thesis was also recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. The full text is available online through Brock’s digital repository.
Although she doesn’t have plans to pursue the research any further at present, Pachis does hope that her work inspires others in the field of ABA to conduct research with older adult populations.
“I also hope that the results from my study encourages other older adults to learn to use tablets and related technologies, perhaps with the help of family members or staff at retirement residences, for both communication and leisure purposes.”
Her thesis supervisor, Kimberley Zonneveld, agreed there is great potential in Pachis’ findings.
“Jacqueline’s work was in a very specific area in behavior analysis, one that is highly under-researched,” the assistant professor in Applied Disabilities Studies said. “It is our hope that her study will spark future research in this area to help the growing aging population improve the quality of their lives.”