Technology: Modern Help for the Aging Mind

McLean Hospital Guest Blogger, Ipsit Vahia, MD

McLean Hospital, the #1 freestanding psychiatric hospital in the U.S., dedicated to improving the lives of all of those affected by mental illness.

08/29/2016 08:22 pm ET | Updated 15 hours ago

Original Article Published on HuffingtonPost.com

 

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Digital technology isn’t just a domain for younger generations. It also has amazing potential for activating the mind and improving the quality of life in older adults.

How do older adults use technology?

A common misconception is that older adults are technophobic. One reason behind this thinking may be older people’s relative lack of exposure to technology. Whereas technology is a compulsory part of life for most school-age children and working adults, using technology is largely voluntary for older adults.

Another reason may be an unclear understanding about how older adults use technology. They don’t tend to explore technology the way that teenagers or younger adults do, but are more apt to focus on a specific feature that is particularly useful to them. Research shows that if the technology has a clear, targeted purpose, older adults are both interested in and quite capable of adopting it.

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What should older adults use smart technology for?

Smart technology can be useful for seniors in many ways. It can help to increase physical activity, improve connectedness with others, stimulate the brain, and improve mood. The key is that the technology should have a meaningful purpose, not just be a means to pass the time.

Exercise, for instance, is one of the most reliable means of improving longevity and mental health, and technology can help to make it more accessible and fun. While walking and going to the gym can be great for both exercise and socialization, these aren’t always viable options for seniors. However, the Nintendo Wii and other gaming systems that incorporate physical activity provide a safe, year-round alternative for getting meaningful—mental and physical—exercise. This is evidenced by recent research showing that the Wii helps to reduce depression in older adults as well as improve balance and mobility in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Wearable fitness trackers may also have a role in helping older adults remain motivated for exercise. Conversely, clinicians can use these trackers as a tool to help detect psychiatric issues when activity levels decline. In fact, in a recent research paper, we demonstrated how data from a wrist-worn fitness monitor can assist clinicians in diagnosing depression.

Older adults also should focus on pursuing something they have always loved to do or have always wanted to do. Enjoyment correlates with success and adherence. Whatever their interest is—e.g., music, puzzles, or languages—they should look for an app or software that helps them engage in these pursuits in an easier, yet still meaningful, way. Learning a language, for instance, can now be done online, often with the option of interacting with other people.

 

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