Traditionally, we tend to associate technology with the younger generation, yet, older adults are surprisingly proficient with a range of modern technology. For example, 59% of Americans aged 65 and above go online and 77% of this population use cellphones.
In fact, 23% of this population actively play games using cellphones, computers or gaming systems.
Not only do these figures indicate significant technology use, but the numbers are also continuing to grow.
In particular, tablets are an example of modern technology that many seniors can use very effectively.
The term tablet refers to touchscreen-based computers that tend to be light and easily portable. The iPad is one of the more well-known examples of these, although there are many others.
Because they are a type of computer, tablets have their own operating system and can run a large number of applications (apps), including many different games.
Tablets may range from a screen size of around 5 inches all the way up to around 10 inches, with screen sizes from 7 to 10 inches being the most common.
Most tablets will run either an Apple or an Android operating system. Many apps will be present in the stores for both types of tablets, but some will only be offered by one of the stores. Most of the apps I'm discussing here are present in both stores, and I specify the cases where this isn't true.
The touch screen interface of these devices tends to be relatively easy for seniors to learn and many of them tend to pick up on what to do very easily. Larger tablets work best for seniors, especially those with poor eyesight, as these have larger font sizes and the onscreen buttons tend to be bigger.
Many people try to find the best Apple or Android apps for seniors, but with so many options out there, it can be a pretty confusing task.
THE APPEAL OF TABLETS
For caregivers and for seniors, tablets can be appealing in a number of ways.
One important aspect is that the games on tablets can keep seniors mentally active, especially as some games can be challenging. Research has indicated that cognitive activity may be one key component in helping to decrease the negative effects of aging on cognition. Another appeal is that tablet games can give seniors something to do with their spare time, keeping them entertained and engaged.
With so many different types of games available for tablets, you should be able to find games that work for any senior, with a little bit of searching. This can be particularly important for caregivers who want a little bit of a break.
In some cases, tablet apps can even be a way of keeping seniors socially engaged, as some games allow for multiple online players or support communication between individuals.Likewise, seniors may play the same games as one another, offering them the chance to talk to each other about the games.
TEACHING AND LEARNING
As you might expect, there is a bit of a learning curve with tablets.
Some seniors will be able to pick up on how to use tablets and games easily. Others will need more teaching.
The main thing that you may need to teach seniors is the basics of interacting with a tablet.
Tablets use touch screens, which are easy to understand. However, seniors do need to learn how to touch the screen to get the desired outcome and learn the impacts that their actions have on the device.
Seniors often learn to use the touch screen relatively easily, but may sometimes find specific tasks challenging.
For example, one elderly woman I know can use a tablet for a number of games without any assistance, but still has trouble unlocking the tablet.
Likewise, you may find that you have to teach some concepts multiple times.
Some seniors may be able to figure out games intuitively, but others may need to be taught how to play specific games. This may be a matter of sitting down with them and stepping them through any new game they start.
At the end of the day, this is something you'll have to figure out on a case-by-case basis. As seniors get better at using tablets, you'll find that they pick up new games more easily and need less help in general.
PICKING TABLET APPS AND GAMES
The range of apps and games for tablets can be daunting.
For example, some of the categories include puzzle, word, casual, card and board games - and that isn't even counting the more practical apps, like audiobook players and eBook readers.
This can be pretty overwhelming even if you only want to find a few suitable apps. The recommendations in this article come from talking to seniors and their families, and also from looking online, to figure out which apps are most suitable for seniors.
While many seniors can play any game, the emphasis here is on apps that are relatively easy to pick up and learn - to accommidate seniors who may struggle with some elements of using a tablet.
This post will present a number of different entertainment and practical apps for Android and Apple devices, and also discuss the various features that make some apps more suitable than others for the senior in your family. All apps discussed are free unless otherwise noted.
While there are many other apps out there, this list can act as a good jumping point for getting seniors into tablets.
Angry Birds Rio (for Apple and Android) is a puzzle game, but the simple controls and fun graphics make it a good pick for seniors. The basic aim of the game is to use a slingshot and knock down buildings and there are many other games in the Angry Birds range, and they are all pretty similar. As with many games, this app is hit or miss, some seniors will love it, others won't be interested at all.
Farmville 2: Country Escape (for Apple and Android) is a farm game with an emphasis on growing crops and earning money. Farmville has attracted large audiences through Facebook and this particular app is Farmville's tablet offering. It is a game that requires strategy, reading and planning, so it might not be suitable for all seniors. However, I know a number of seniors who enjoy the game and like the way that it keeps them thinking. Additionally, this game has a social element, allowing players to join a co-op, where they can help one another and chat to one another. I've seen players get so caught up in the chat that they barely touch the rest of the game.
Peggle Blast (for Apple and Android) is hard to explain, but the game basically involves using a ball to knock out pegs. Peggle looks complicated at first, but the game is easy to pick up and can be a lot of fun without being confusing. Peggle Blast is the free version of the game, and has in-app purchases. The original game and its sequel (Peggle and Peggle Nights) are both also available on Android and Apple. These versions cost to purchase, but are better in the long-run.
The Sims Freeplay (for Apple and Android) is a version of the Sims franchise, although most seniors probably haven't heard of the franchise. This is a task-based game where users build families and send characters (Sims) on tasks. It requires less strategy than Farmville, but both games require waiting for tasks to finish. This is a common approach in many similar games, and makes for relaxing game play, where you set it up and come back later.
BRAIN GAMES AND PUZZLES
Block Puzzle (for Android) is is a puzzle game where users have to fit blocks within a shape. It is simple to understand but can get challenging as people progress through the game. While this specific app seems to be Android only, there are many similar apps in both Android and Apple stores.
Clevermind ($2.99 for Apple) is specifically designed for people with Alzheimer's disease. It includes a range of functions for entertainment, including games, trivia and a journal. Additionally, the app allows for voice interaction and can be used to browse the internet in a more user-friendly manner.
Jigsaw Puzzles Epic (for Apple and Android) is a good tablet choice for puzzles, although there are many similar apps out there. Jigsaw puzzles are a fantastic option for seniors, and doing them on the tablet is an easier option than taking up the living room with a puzzle. Jigsaw Puzzles Epic is a free app that comes with a large number of puzzles. Users can choose how many pieces their puzzle is (from 4 to 400) and also whether the pieces of the puzzle can rotate or not. More puzzles can be purchased from the in-game store, but the free puzzles should last most users for a long time.
Word Search Puzzles (for Apple and Android) is one of many word search apps out there. It has large text and is easy to use, making it a good option for seniors. However, it does not have a setting for difficulty, so it might not work for everyone.
Words With Friends (for Apple and Android) is a turn-based social game that plays like Scrabble. The social element of the game comes from the way that you play against other people, taking turns with them. The game also gives you the ability to chat to the people you are playing against, which can be good if seniors are playing against friends. The free version has ads, which can be a pain, but the social aspect of the game can be appealing to seniors.
Kindle (for Apple and Android) is one example of an eBook reader, although there are many other apps with similar functions. Kindle can be a good choice, as buying books through the app (or online) is relatively simple and the prices are often reasonable. In fact, you can buy Kindle apps from the Amazon store. Most apps for eBook reading have options to make the book easier to read, such as increasing font size or altering the contrast. Using this type of app can be a great way for seniors to read and the app gives you the ability to make any book into a large print book.
Audible (for Apple and Android) is one of many apps for playing audiobooks. As with Kindle, this app makes it easy to buy books, and both Kindle and Audible are tied into Amazon. The books can be a bit on the expensive side, but Audible offers a monthly plan that gives users one audiobook per month and 30% off all other audiobooks. This is a great option for seniors who have trouble reading (or don't want to).
Although it's membership based ($7.99/month), Netflix is a great way for seniors to watch movies and television shows. Its competitor Hulu is also a good option ($7.99/month for Hulu Plus, free for basic Hulu), as Hulu often has more classic shows than Netflix offers. If you have network subscription, you may be able to access other apps, like HBO Go, which let you stream content from specific networks. Both of these apps are for Apple and Android devices.
Big Launcher ($10.00 for Android) creates a new home screen for Android devices which much larger icons. This can enhance readability for seniors who struggle to see icons on devices, particularly on smaller devices. A demo version of the app is also available. This is one of the relatively few Apple or Android apps for seniors that has actually specifically been designed for this population, with CleverMind (above) being another one.
We've talked about a number of different apps here, but we've only scratched the surface.
Both Apple and Android have immense stores that are constantly updated with new apps. This means the options for Apple and Android apps for seniors are pretty much endless.
LOOK AT CATEGORIES AND INTERESTS
One of the first things to look at when picking apps is to explore the type of app the senior may enjoy.
For example, some seniors enjoy games, while others enjoy apps that challenge them mentally.
Knowing the type (or types) of app to look for can help you to narrow down what you need. This may take trial and error, and patience.
Additionally, if you know the type of app, you can often use the search function within the store itself to find what you are looking for. For example, you might choose to search 'card games' or 'word search', which would give you a list of apps that fall under these terms. The approach isn't precise, as it is looking for words in the title of the app, but it works well for general categories of apps.
You can also look at categories and subcategories of apps.
For example, in the Google Play store (Android's app store), games is one category and some of its subcategories include: board, card, casual, puzzle and word.
When deciding on apps, the star rating can also give an indication of app quality.
Typically four or five star apps are worth trying while anything three stars or under is questionable.
In many cases though, it may be a case of downloading apps and trying them out.
I don't recommend this for paid apps, but there is a huge number of free apps in the apps stores that you can choose from.
CONSIDER PHYSICAL AND MENTAL LIMITATIONS
Many seniors will be limited in what apps they can enjoy because of physical or mental issues.
Thinking about these limitations can help you to figure out what types of apps might be most suited for them.
For example, seniors who have problems with their eyesight might benefit from audiobooks instead of eBooks. Seniors who have failing hearing can use a headset with the tablet (which makes things less annoying for you too). This makes it easier for them to hear what is going on.
From the mental perspective, some seniors will struggle with games that are complex or challenging mentally, while others won't have an issue.
This means that you may have to look for games that are simple to play.
This is particularly true for people with dementia, as they can become frustrated easily. Yet, they can enjoy simple games. For example, one study found that bingo could increase mental functioning in participants with Alzheimer's disease.
Other types of games that can work include puzzle games, simple matching games and games like the Clevermind app I discussed earlier.
At present, there are few apps available that were specifically developed for seniors, but this is changing. Research is beginning to focus on developing games for seniors. Hopefully this means that more games will be available in the future.
Nevertheless, many of the games designed for other age groups are still very suitable for seniors.
Certainly, seniors really can enjoy games on tablets, even though their skill levels can vary dramatically.
For example, an elderly woman I know plays Angry Birds, because the controls are relatively easy to use. Although she enjoys the game, she doesn't fully understand the physics or strategy behind it, so ends up repeating levels frequently.
In contrast, my dad has dementia, yet he is still able to play blackjack online (quite successfully too, I might add), which continues to surprise the family. It must be because of years spent playing blackjack in real casinos - but it's a strong indication that seniors can be capable of more than we imagine.
GAMES AND THEIR MODELS
Many tablet games use a model called freemium.
This means that the game itself is free, but some things within it may cost. A common example is items to speed up time in games like The Sims Freeplay and Farmville Country Escape.
If this is likely to be an issue, it is possible to turn off in-app purchasing on your device to make sure no one accidentally spends money in games.
Alternatively, you can make sure apps always ask for a password when any purchase is made.
You will also find some free games support themselves through ads - which can get annoying fast.
In some cases, you can pay to have the ads removed, but not all games support this.
I've found that in general, paid games are often better because they aren't trying as hard to get money out of users (they already got paid when you bought the game). So, if you find a paid game with good reviews that looks promising, don't write it off just because it costs.
FINDING A TABLET
Most of the games that seniors will play on tablets aren't particularly intensive in terms of graphics or processing power.
Because of this, getting a good tablet for a senior doesn't have to be an expensive investment.
In fact, if you have technically minded people in your extended family, you may be able to get one as a hand-me-down.
For example, I know a couple who recently upgraded to newer and faster tablets for personal use.
Their previous tablets ended up being gifted to their mothers. This provided a fantastic introduction into tablets for the seniors, without costing anyone any money.
Additionally, most of the apps discussed here can also be found for Android and Apple smartphones. Smartphones tend to have a much smaller screen, so aren't suitable for all seniors, but they do offer an alternative to tablets for seniors who have good eyesight.
IN THE END
Tablets can be a wonderful way of keeping seniors entertained, and there are so many different apps available.
In this post I've focused mostly on apps that I have had experience with and have seen seniors using, but there are many more out there. If you have other ideas for apps for seniors, please let me know in the comments below.
More than anything, the trick to finding the perfect apps for seniors is to engage them in the selection process.
This will let you see what they are most interested in and what type of games they enjoy the most.