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Using iPads could help older adults' thinking abilities

Reading iPad

 (Apple)

For older adults, learning to use a tablet computer could improve their memory, and help them complete tasks faster, a new study suggests.

These skills can enhance everyday life and help older adults achieve greater independence, the researchers said.

The study included 54 older adults, ages 60 to 90, who were computer novices; they participated for 15 hours per week for three months. Among the participants, 18 received extensive training on an iPad tablet, and learned a broad range of applications. Researchers compared the iPad group against two control groups, including a placebo group that engaged in tasks that required little new learning, and a social group, in which people had regular interaction with others but didn't learn a new skill.

Compared with both control groups, participants in the iPad group showed greater improvements in how fast they could think, and in their episodic memory, which is the recollection of events and experiences that occurred at a particular time and place.

The study builds on a previous finding, which showed that older adults who engaged in cognitively demanding activities such as quilting and digital photography also showed improvements in their thinking, said study researcher Micaela Y. Chan, of the University of Texas at Dallas. "In both cases, participants improved their memory and the speed at which they processed information, more than volunteers who joined a social club or merely took part in educational activities such as playing word games." [10 Technologies That Will Transform Your Life]

Studies have shown that older adults who master a new technology gain increased independence in old age and improved life quality, Chan said. The researchers selected tablets as the technology to test in the new study because the devices are easy use, even taking into account motor and visual abilities among older adults, which can range from fair to good. The iPad's easy-to-read touch screen and user-friendly menu button were big factors in the researchers' selection, plus participants did not have concern themselves with using a mouse, Chan said.

The study is published June 14 in the journal The Gerontologist.

"Mastering technological devices such as the iPad has the added advantage of providing older adults with technological skills that are useful in completing everyday activities, such as banking and shopping," Chan said.

When the researchers followed up with the participants in the previous study a year later, the cognitive benefits were maintained, Chan said. While the findings in the iPad study are intriguing, she noted, they are preliminary and additional research is needed to quantify the long-term benefits of iPad use.

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