Debunking brain myths

This month’s myth:
Older adults can’t learn how to use high-tech gadgets. True or false?

Truth:
The notion that older adults can’t learn and use hi-tech gadgets is absolutely NOT true,” says Dr. Brian Richards, Baycrest psychologist. “In fact, half of Canadians over 60 years of age, including retirees, are online. This is higher than any other industrialized nation.”

What we find is that older adults readily adopt new technologies particularly if they see relevance for it in their lives.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. A research study done in the 1970s and 1980s when microwaves were first introduced, found that considerable numbers of elderly adopted the new technology because it had real utility in their everyday lives. It made sense. They could quickly and conveniently heat up small portions of food.

“We are finding the same adaptation and usage of computers, internet and cell phones,” says Dr. Richards. “Aging users are looking for information and products related to health and wellness, entertainment, travel and shopping. One difference is that they are not using computers to play video games the way younger users are.”

One in four over the age of 60 are even visiting social networking sites to connect with family, friends and people with similar interests.

What about ability to learn new technologies?

Dr. Richards explains that there is growing evidence that older people continue to form new brain networks throughout life, into old age, to support new learning. These new networks are visible in MRI scans. Also, procedural memory, the type used for learning new skills, doesn’t decline with age.

Dr. Eva Svoboda, Baycrest psychologist, agrees. “For older people who want to learn new technology for the first time, it can be intimidating. They don’t have the background or 20 years of experience that younger folks do. It’s not intuitive. But what we have found is that after one-on-one training sessions, the fear is gone.”

As long as the support is there to assist with troubleshooting, even older brains can learn new technologies. Learning any new skill is healthy and good for the brain.

This is all good news. Although it might take more repetition for them to acquire the skills, older people can and do learn these technologies.

Tips to assist with learning new technologies:

  • Find a support person to help you and that you can call upon for troubleshooting.
  • Book one-on-one learning sessions for best results.
  • Find an interest (such as email or a particular topic) because when there is a need or purpose it makes it more fun to learn.
  • Don’t get flustered or nervous. It may take some time.
  • Try to decrease distractions when you are learning because it becomes harder to focus as we age.

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