Granny Tech: How to teach your 65 year old mother to use the iPad

by | senior transportation

In Bangladesh of the 1980s, people were dirt poor.  Around that time, Muhammad Yunus created the Grameen Bank and took it upon himself through micro loans to empower the poor out of poverty in Bangladesh over the next 30 years.  What was surprising about his success story was that the problem he truly solved was around the mind-set of poverty and not so much about the lack of money in poverty. This mind-set of poverty is one of helplessness and dis-empowerment. “Poverty is artificially imposed on human beings. If you lift all those artificial conditions nobody will be a poor person.”  As I have continued my journey into Elder Care and Support I realize that mind-set is also a key issue with Seniors and technology.  Continuing my not-so-great analogies Batman’s arch enemy in one of the many Batman movies says “You always fear what you don’t understand”.many p

When my mother first went into her Senior Home, the sense of isolation from family and her familiar home was an instant shock. As with many people with elderly parents, I rushed to get her some technology to get her connected with not only myself but the immediate family that had dispersed widely from our originally home town.  What I thought would take a few hours of showing how a few Apps and buttons worked took much longer than expected. Here are a couple of tips that I used to get this through this journey with my mother:

–> Generally in exposing a new idea to someone, it usually takes 3 times of the same idea to be exactly repeated before people actually start to hear it and perhaps believe it. There are a couple of different frameworks out there that talk about software learning ramp time but my rule of thumb that I eventually settled on for explaining any new feature was a total of 6 times repeating the exact same thing. Patience is always the key as most elderly people have never seen some things that we computer savvy people take for granted — icons, menu bars etc.

–>Trust that some machine is working in the physical world is fairly easy. You see some blinking lights, some noise and you know its on.  When something goes wrong with a pressing a button on an App there usually is no obvious indication of something going wrong…it just doesn’t do anything and that’s where frustration comes into play.  The usual response would be “oh I just am not good at this…I should give up”.  I think that was a repeated pattern over months of conversation but my eventual strategy there was to trust the device and the App and just figure out the mistake around the mechanics and steps of what we were trying to accomplish. This was all part of the learning curve and there was no lack of skill that was the proble.

–>Once a few of the basic Apps were mastered I thought we were good to go. She would be able keep herself busy with Skyping, Vibering and playing online games. Unfortunately that was another surprising lesson. Old habits die hard.  As a past Harvard study and Nir Eyal spoke about in his book “Habit Forming Products” the easiest way to change a habit is around the external trigger or queue for the behavior and the reward. So if she was bored instead of picking up the crossword puzzle out of the local newspaper, it would be better if she went online and did some games or talked with people.  In my case, I sent her a simple photo that she would draw everyday and the reward was a phone call.

The digital world can be daunting for anyone venturing into it the first time. But once it’s understood then even your elderly parents may surprise you with an App or two that they found “awesome”.

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