My mother—who is in her eighties—recently decided she wanted an iPad. I needed no convincing, since my iPad goes where I go! We visited our local store to get some advice, and left (after a good deal of consideration) with a brand new tablet. Since then, my mother has been wondering how she ever managed without one. Perhaps she’s in the minority, embracing new technology so readily at her age, but scientist are beginning to uncover some interesting evidence that using modern gadgets can help keep our brains “younger.” For example, a recent study published in Intelligence showed how scientists found that adults over 50 years had brain function 4-8 years younger than a similar group tested six years earlier. They believe this result is partly due to the rise in the use of modern technology.
It’s been well documented that keeping yourself mentally alert—the “use it or lose it” effect—can have a significant impact on brain function, and especially on its deterioration due to aging or common degenerative condition like dementia. So how exactly does using modern technology (like tablets, smartphones and computers), help us stay young?
1. Social interaction
It’s said that if you want to know what your kids are up to, check their Facebook account! Modern apps like Face Time, Skype, WhatsApp and instant messaging have revolutionized the way we interact, and this can have benefits. Older people can stay in touch with friends and family and communicate with people via email or SMS, even if they find getting out of the home difficult. It’s much easier to stay connected, and any type of social interaction helps to keep the brain functioning well.
2. Life skills
It’s a 40 mile round trip to our nearest bank, but I can manage my finances anywhere with online banking. Using the internet, we can shop worldwide, pursue hobbies such as crafts or investigating family histories, and learn new skills (e.g. how to fix a leaky tap). Contact lists, ‘to-do’ lists, calendars and much more, can all be managed on our gadgets and synchronized across devices, making everyday life much simpler.
3. Mental agility
Keeping our brains agile is a critical weapon in the fight against brain aging, and managing all the various apps and programs forces us to stay nimble (as does relearning how to use them when they get upgraded!). Although it’s sometimes painful at first, a continual process of using our different apps will help keep us capable of taking on new information and learning new skills.
4. Learning power
Continual learning is another way to stay engaged with life and thus keep our brains working well. There’s a fabulous range of online learning opportunities, ranging from free MOOCs to online degree courses. Learn a new language, extend your dressmaking skills, start a totally new pastime or follow a keep-fit routine—you can do all this from the comfort of your own home.
As we age, it’s harder to remember new information, although often long-term memory is less of a problem. Again, learning how to carry out tasks using our technology is a great way to keep our memory muscles flexed. Brain training apps are a superb way to do this, as well as sharpen other brain functions, and most will analyze your responses and tailor the tasks to help boost your weaker skills.
6. Cognitive skills
Other cognitive skills—such as reading and writing—are also essential. Reading apps (like Kindle) help us to read easily wherever we are, and sending texts and emails keep our writing skills in good shape. If these tasks are physically difficult, voice recognition functions (e.g. Siri) can help people manage independently.
7. Problem solving
It’s a rare gadget that hasn’t had a glitch at some time, and working to overcome this can truly boost our problem-solving skills! Further, carrying out an internet search, following a line of enquiry or negotiating an online shopping cart can all help us solve problems successfully. Puzzle apps like Sudoku can also assist in keeping us sharp.
Finally, all these skills require us to be able to give focused concentration to the task in hand. To use a gadget efficiently, it’s important to concentrate well, so using our smartphone or tablet is a good way to ensure we can give our full attention to something when it’s necessary.