Considerations in Training Elderly People How to Use Electronic Assistive Devices

Original Editor - Yara Peterko Top Contributors - Yara Peterko

Introduction[edit | edit source]

There are many products out there that are supposed to make our lives easier. Some are medical products, others are designed for everyone and simplify things, even if you do not have a diagnosis.  Many of these devices are electronic or even “smart” devices with internet access. For people who have not used these kinds of devices before, it can be a huge barrier to learn how to use them, before being able to experience the benefits they provide.

Rehabilitation professionals can play a significant role in supporting these people, often they are eldery people, to learn how to use these devices and to benefit from them in their daily life.

Benefits of Electronic Assistive Devices[edit | edit source]

Using a tablet as an assistive electronic device

We know that aging in place is important for many people and also cost saving for health care systems. But aging often comes with limitations in different body functions like cognition, sensory and motor functions and makes it hard for people to take care of themselves. Electronic assistive devices can support people in overcoming the barriers that would hinder them in living independently [1]. One of the most simple devices would be a mobile phone that they can use to contact someone if they are in need of help or just want to talk to someone. Communication devices can bring great benefits to the life of elderly people[2]. Other devices with included sensors can remind them what to check before leaving the house or detect falls and call the emergency automatically. For other people a tablet where they can do online shopping and send and  receive mails could be the key for being able to live independently, if they have difficulties leaving their house for appointments.

The variety in devices is huge and based on the individual needs they can be very different. What most of them have in common with the use of these devices is that most people need to learn how to use them before they can make use of the benefits[3] [4].

Learning as an Older Person[edit | edit source]

Learning something new at an older age differs from learning earlier during your life. Not only do the cognitive abilities change, but also the motor and sensory abilities and functions decrease. This can lead to difficulties during the use of these devices.

Watch this video to find out how it feels to use a smartphone if you are suffering from arthritis and sensitivity loss compared with visual impairments: 


Elderly people rather have support when aquiring new skills.

Older people often find it difficult to acquire new skills by themselves. Trial and error is not a suitable method for them. After a certain age, people find it difficult to remember the sequence of steps. They therefore cannot find the “way back” [4]. In addition, they are often afraid of breaking a device and are therefore reluctant to simply try it  and are requiring training from an instructor [6]. Longer-term use of the new technologies is also promoted if people are trained in how to use them[7].

Learning success, the aquisition of new skills, is not only dependent on cognitive factors, but also directly related to motivation[8]. You should therefore clearly explain the benefits of the device right from the start so that there is motivation to learn how to use it.

From Learner to User[edit | edit source]

Based on the findings in her Master Thesis Yara Peterko [9] developed a four step approach for the training of elderly people in the use of electronic devices, especially a tablet that allows people to control systems in their house and to use the internet for communication and other purposes:

1. Information - Why should you be using it? What is the advantage of using it?

2. Demonstration - What functions does the device have? This is how to use it.

3. Try it - Self-awareness, test functions. Step by step with verbal assistance

4. Feedback - Exchange about first experiences

Information[edit | edit source]

When it comes to information, simplify complex relationships, but don't completely conceal the function of the device. Older people are also interested in finding out how something works. When speaking, familiar terms should be used. These should also appear on the tablet. For example "Call a friend" instead of "Skype".

Demonstration[edit | edit source]

The functions of the tablet should be demonstrated in advance. The device is generally only used when the functions are important for the elderly. Contact with relatives over the phone is particularly motivating and information and entertainment. It is therefore important that functions covering these areas are available on the device. For example, one could install an app to make breaking news accessible and add simple cognitive games. Cooperation with a health portal may also be possible, since older people also like to find out more about health topics online. It is also important to demonstrate the basic functions: switching on, switching off, charging, etcetera.

It is important that they can try it by themselves after they had an introduction and demonstration and then get to ask questions and to receive feedback

Try it[edit | edit source]

Now it's time to get actively involved. It is helpful if the learners receive the contact details of an employee or relative in order to try out Skype and other communication functions directly. You should receive an answer within a few minutes so that you can try opening the e-mail right away. If you are working with a group of people, it is good if the teaching team consists of two people. In this way, one person can explain in general, the other person can support the learners at the same time. If the participants have very different previous knowledge or if there is a larger group, the number of teachers should be increased or a division of the group should be considered

Feedback[edit | edit source]

Participants should share their first impressions with each other and be invited to ask further questions.

It is important to keep pointing out the benefits of the technologies to the participants!

Ask - Explain - Invite - One on One - Understand - Approach (AEIOU- Approach)[edit | edit source]

Watch this video of Isabella Martinez where she gives insights in the AEIOU - Approach she developed. the four steps explained above and Martinez’s approach can be easily combined and are providing a good base for the training of elderly people when it comes to using new electronic devices.


Things to Consider as an Instructor[edit | edit source]

The overall results of Yara Peterko's Master thesis led to the follwing list of things an instructor should consider when training elderly people how to use assistive devices.[9]

Elderly people….[edit | edit source]

….. should be invited to ask questions at any time.

….. like to learn in a group because they see that they are not alone with their problems.

….. do NOT learn by trial and error, but need step-by-step instructions, also in written form (manual). Each individual tutorial should start from the same starting point, for example the desktop.

….. often need more time to learn functions and react sensitively when the teacher becomes impatient. Therefore, they like to learn from their peers, since they tend to attribute impatience to the younger ones. If the younger person is patient, they will be accepted as a teacher.

…. often relate mistakes to themselves and take them personally, even if there is a technical problem. As a result, they are unsure that they might have broken something. It is therefore important to check the technical components in advance.

….. like to take notes. Provide small A5 or A6 notebooks or flashcards or post-its and pens if someone in the group would like to use this option, or leave space in the manual for notes by using increased margins and line spacing.

…. do not know many terms and illustrations from computer language. In this respect, it is important to pay attention to consistently simple language or to add a kind of vocabulary index and figure explanations to the manual.

…. often have preconceived notions about new technologies. Therefore, it is important to explain for each function individually why it is important and what it’s benefits are.

…. attention should be drawn to possible stumbling blocks in order to prevent them in advance

Relevance for Rehabilitation Professionals[edit | edit source]

In this section we are highlighting some points why it could be relevant to you, as a rehabilitation professional, to know about how to teach elderly people to use their devices.

First of all, no matter if you are doing home visits or not it is likely that aging in place and healthy aging is one of the overall therapy goals through the use of the electronic assistive devices this goal can be supported.

Depending on your profession it is likely that you are training relevant skills with your clients that they need to be able to use the device that is meant to support them. It could be that you are working with your client on fine motor skills, cognitive functions or even language skills.

Even if you have not been involved with choosing the device or training particular skills with your client it is likely that they are going to ask you for help with such devices if you are the person that they are regularly in contact with and who they trust. By knowing more about how you can support them in the use of the devices you can build an even better relationship with your client.

Healthcare providers can play a significant role within the use of the device by the client as they help them to understand the functions, to see the benefits and to stay motivated[11].

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Cicirelli, G., Marani, R., Petitti, A., Milella, A., & D'Orazio, T. (2021). Ambient Assisted Living: A Review of Technologies, Methodologies and Future Perspectives for Healthy Aging of Population. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 21(10), 3549.
  2. Naudé, B., Rigaud, A. S., & Pino, M. (2022). Video Calls for Older Adults: A Narrative Review of Experiments Involving Older Adults in Elderly Care Institutions. Frontiers in public health, 9, 751150.
  3. Grauel, J.; Spellerberg, A. (2007): Akzeptanz neuer Wohntechniken für ein selbständiges Leben im Alter – Erklärung anhand soziostruktureller Merkmale, Technikkompetenz und Technikeinstellung. Zeitschrift für Sozialreform 53 (2), 191 - 215.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ziefle, M., & Bay, S. (2005). How older adults meet complexity: Aging effects on the usability of different mobile phones. Behaviour & Information Technology, 24(5), 375–389. doi:10.1080/0144929042000320009
  5. Teaching seniors how to use smartphones.Available from: Mazi in Tech. [last accessed 12/7/2022]
  6. Saunders, E. J. (2004). Maximising Computer Use Among the Elderly. In Educational Gerontology, 30, 573-585. Taylor & Francis Inc.
  7. Joyce, K., & Loe, M. (2010). A sociological approach to ageing, technology and health. Sociology of Health & Illness, 32(2), 171–180. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2009.01219.x
  8. Charness (2009). Aging and Work: Issues and Implications in a Changing Landscape. 232-2589. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Unyversity Press
  9. 9.0 9.1 Peterko, Y., Ritschl, V. (2014). Die Schulung von älteren Personen im Umgang mit AAL- Technologie. Schulungsentwicklung anhand des Instructional System Design. Masterarbeit FH Wiener Neustadt
  10. Isabella Martinez. Helping Seniors Cross the Digital Divide. Available from: [last accessed 12/7/2022]
  11. Jain, S. R., Sui, Y., Ng, C. H., Chen, Z. X., Goh, L. H., & Shorey, S. (2020). Patients' and healthcare professionals' perspectives towards technology-assisted diabetes self-management education. A qualitative systematic review. PloS one, 15(8), e0237647.