My 89 year old Mom and the iPad

An elderly computer-phobe plays with an iPad and loves every minute of it!

My 89 year old Mom was over for dinner the other day and while it was cooking on the stove, I sat down with her to show her my iPad and what it could do. We first played with Morfo, a fun app that takes a picture of a face and can morf it into animated zoo animals, superheroes, groovy 60s characters and more.  First I took her picture, showed her how it needs to be formatted, and then let her choose the types of looks she could morf her face into. She was hooting with laughter as we modified her face into different creatures and characters.

Mom on Morfo

A variety of “looks” we created for mom with Morfo

Now let me tell you a bit about Mom. She is relatively healthy and of sound mind, kind, intelligent and fun.  But she HATES computers. I have never been able to convince her that my regular computer is any good at all. She has tried to use the keyboard and mouse to do solitaire and other things, and never had the patience or interest to give it a serious try. She will look on with interest while I show her her grandkids’, brother’s, or nieces’ and nephews’ videos or pictures, and she even asks me to look up recipes, spellings, or to see what celebrities are doing today. But she will not typically touch the computer directly herself.  Unfortunately also… Mom has some serious memory issues. She does not readily retain new information, though she can with some extra repetition. In addition, she understandably (at her age) has some vision and hearing impairment, with cataracts and high-frequency hearing loss. She has fairly good response time and eye-hand coordination, with some degree of decline as is typical for someone in their late 80s.

Amazingly though, Mom seemed to really be enjoying the iPad with its interactivity, engagement and touchy-feelyness. While she was playing with the Morfo app, she would repeatedly ask things like “What is this thing?… How much does it cost?… Was it terribly expensive?” and so on.

A drawing by Mom in Art Set

A drawing by Mom in Art Set

Initially Mom seemed to think that the sole purpose of the iPad was for Morfo. So in between stirring and checking my dinner, I showed her some other things it can do.

We next explored Art Set, an application that allows you to draw and paint with your finger. After I showed her a few things about the interface, she began using it herself. She created a rather 1940s looking cartoon on her own in a few short minutes (left).

She had no difficulty using her finger on the iPad screen to draw this out. I was watching her enjoyment while she produced this creation, though she said “Well I can do better… the eyes are a bit off…”and so forth.

Looks kind of like I Love Lucy, doesn’t it?

Further Explorations in iPad

Knowing Mom has always loved music, I next pulled up Garage Band, one of my all-time favorite purchased apps.  In my view, Garage Band is a fantastically worthwhile purchase, since it has such an incredible array of musical instruments and recording possibilities, the interface is so intuitive, and the instruments look, sound and feel very much like the real thing.

I opened up the Piano interface for her, and after demonstrating very briefly, I just “let her loose” with it while I went to complete the dinner.

The Garage Band Piano Interface in iPad

The Garage Band Piano Interface in iPad

While still at the stove working on supper, I listened to Mom (a few feet away from me) using the Garage Band piano. She started with what sounded like an old hymn. At first, she was way off… then got closer with a few more tries… then on the 5th or 6th try produced what sounded like a perfect, simple old-fashioned tune. She later did the same with “Do, a Deer” (while she sang) and also “Twinkle, Twinkle”. Again it was the same process… she started a bit off and had to explore and self-correct… which she did out loud, exclaiming things like “No, that is not right” before each new attempt. For each song, she typically got closer and closer till correct, after about 5 to 7 tries. Clearly she was remembering using a real piano (I think she had lessons long ago) but also was using her skills to learn, self-monitor and fine-tune her own performance.

Some conclusions:

My Mom, aged 89

My Mom, aged 89

As a daughter of an elderly person: I enjoyed my mother’s enjoyment of the iPad and these apps so much so that I am probably going to get her one. After trying so long to get her to use a desktop computer to no avail, she took to the iPad like a duck to water. Why? In my opinion, it’s easy, intuitive, interactive and fun. It took little to no explanation before she was off and running with each application I showed her. The interface and device itself were simple, visual, and the right size for her to readily see and use with her hand.

However as an educational technologist, and someone who has also worked extensively with persons with disabilities as a skills trainer and leisure specialist, I see HUGE potential for lifelong learning.  On an iPad you are directly touching something to make it work.  There is no need to coordinate mouse movements with what is going on with the on-screen cursor like you need to do on a standard desktop computer.  Clearly this tool can help promote accessibility, self-directed learning, engagement, leisure education, memory improvement and customizable entertainment for the elderly, impaired and other groups for whom conventional computers might not be as effective.

I looked around the educational databases briefly but did not see a lot of scholarly journal articles on iPad and learning potential or recreational use in the elderly. However I certainly encourage it and hope to see (or even do) more studies on uses such as this (if you know of related articles, please throw them my way!). I know that for my own Mom, we will certainly explore it further.

About the author: Lorraine Stanton holds her MS in health education, and has many years experience working with adults with disabilities as a skills trainer in both group home and adult educational settings. More recently, Lorraine is an instructional technologist currently completing her doctoral dissertation in educational leadership, with a focus on instructional systems technology.

A recent picture of my mother, my daughter and myself

A recent picture of my mother, my daughter and myself


2 thoughts on “My 89 year old Mom and the iPad

  1. What a wonderful idea to keep the mind alert. I’d better start now! Lorraine, you look like Liza Minnelli here.(and I think she’s gorgeous)! What a wonderful generation picture!

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