Written by By Jerilyn Fleck M.S Ed, Special Education
As your loved one is aging, they can still use their smartphone for multiple things besides phone calls and text messaging. In this article, I’m going to focus on two essential tasks to enhance cognitive engagement and mental sharpness: staying connected and playing thinking games. I’ve used some of these tools in my experiences as a caregiver and I’ve learned of others in my graduate work in assistive technology at Southern Connecticut State University.
- Stay connected to loved ones through Skype, Facetime, Google Meets, or Zoom. This is a great way to visually connect with loved ones near and far. Setting up weekly family meetings helps maintain a sense of normalcy and belonging. Should your loved one has memory difficulties, it also helps reinforce and identify family members. For those that have difficulty hearing or understanding what is being spoken, closed captions can be enabled on most platforms.
- Virtual visits – With the use of technology your loved ones can go anywhere in the world, explore museums, and national parks just to name a few. For example, Google Arts & Culture https://artsandculture.google.com/explore, lets you explore different art collections from a variety of artists, time periods, and mediums. The Taste of Home https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/free-virtual-tours/ website gives a short list of museums around the world and zoos in the United States that can be visited virtually. While visiting the virtual museums, you can take the opportunity to demonstrate how to navigate the site’s features (zoom, left-right keys, and maps). If they are an animal lover, many zoos have real-time cameras where you can watch particular animals. Air Pano https://www.airpano.com/ allows the viewer to have a 360͒ view of different destinations and locations all around the world. From Maui, Hawaii to the Taj Mahal, their virtual vacations are endless. Google Earth https://earth.google.com will allow your loved one to visit their childhood home, honeymoon, or other memory spots, simply by entering the specific location’s address. Introducing these possibilities in the virtual world can foster new shared experiences and trigger past memories.
- Digital Picture Frames – There are many manufacturers that offer digital picture frames. These frames can sometimes hold up to 400 pictures (depending on the manufacturer). For example, Frameo https://frameo.net gives each family member a unique passcode to add pictures. Once the app is downloaded and the passcode is entered, you are able to send pictures instantaneously to the recipient’s frame. Personally, I am able to send pictures of my children’s important moments instantaneously to my 82-year-old mom who has moved to Texas. Additionally, we are able to send other special moments like weddings, baby pictures, and long-distance family members. This picture-sharing avenue is another way to help your loved one stay connected.
My final tip is to use technology to keep a loved one’s mind sharp. Motivating cognitive engagement is essential for mental sharpness through all stages of life. There are so many different options for them to explore, given their interest and abilities. Most can be easily downloaded to a tablet, laptop, or smartphone.
- GeoGuessr https://www.geoguessr.com/ takes you to different places around the world. It also requires the user to navigate and use their knowledge to guess the location displayed on the screen. This tool can reinforce descriptive questioning and language. This site does require you to set up a free account for them.
- Lumosity Brain Training https://www.lumosity.com. The app is a free subscription (however, it contains ads) or $11.99 (without ads) per month. This app targets memory, reasoning, flexibility, problem-solving, and attention. After you enter basic information, the user takes a “brain fit test”. Once complete, the user is ready to play. For example, one game requires the user to quickly remember the previous shape presented. Other games enhance math and language skills.
- When selecting apps for your loved one, options should revolve around their particular interest. There are apps for crossword puzzles, word searches, solitaire, bingo, hidden objects, or just fun matching games like Candy Crush. You name it, I am sure that there is an app.
Harnessing the opportunities within technology can enable your loved one to stay connected to family, travel the world, and/or exercise the brain. All of these things continue to support cognitive engagement and mental sharpness. As always, be sure to practice safe technology use when downloading and using some of these free tools.
Additional links and resources:
Bridging the Digital Divide for CT – https://cttechact.com/bridging-divide/
Joan Green http://www.innovativespeech.com/
AARP Technology Resources – https://www.aarp.org/home-family/personal-technology/
Aging and Health Technology Watch – https://www.ageinplacetech.com/