Tech gadgets aren’t just for youngsters on your gift list

It’s not just teenagers who might have a new smartphone or tablet on their holiday wish list this year. Older adults want new tech, as well. But before you buy grandma a new iPad, you may want to think about how she’ll learn to use it.

Older adults are often uncomfortable with new technology, but applied behaviour analysis could help overcome that discomfort, says Kimberley Zonneveld, Assistant Professor in Brock University’s Department of Applied Disability Studies.

Kimberley Zonneveld, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Disability Studies.

“But once you break down that barrier and teach older adults to use their new device to access YouTube, for example, their whole world opens up,” she says.

For older adults, understanding how to use technology could improve their quality of life.

“As behaviour analysts, that’s what we all want,” says Zonneveld.

Exactly how best to teach those skills was at the heart of a recent study led by Zonneveld’s graduate student, Jacqueline Pachis. Study results showed that older adults benefitted equally from written instructions and video modelling.

“Think about ways people learn how to do things,” says Zonneveld. “They get a written instruction manual or they go on YouTube and watch a video.”

Study participants, all of whom lived in a local retirement residence, were taught to use an iPad to use the Internet, which was “a tipping point,” she says. “That’s what behaviour analysis is all about — making big, socially significant improvements in people’s lives.”

So, Zonneveld says go ahead and buy grandma or grandpa the latest tech gadget, but keep in mind they’ll need to learn how to use it. Before you tie the ribbon, you may want to tuck instructions into the box or make them a personalized video they can watch to learn how to get the most out of their new device.

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