Connecting the Disconnected: Tip #4

I should probably pause here to point out that there is wide variation among older adults’ abilities, skills and experiences. Because aging is such a highly individualized process, the older a population group, the greater the differences will be among the group’s individuals. This means it is virtually impossible to predict how easy or difficult new technology will be for anyone based solely on age. For some, physical and cognitive declines begin as early as the thirties. For others, the changes are not noticeable until well into their sixth decade. Still, there are some generalizations which can be made, especially when it comes to learning, and especially since the group we’re talking about here is over sixty (most seem to use 65 as the cut-off for “older adult”).

One of those generalizations is the need for repetition in the learning process. With cognitive slowing, repetition seems to be the adaptive technique adopted by everyone. Even when they understand a concept or task, older adults will ask to be guided through the steps again, and again. Even when they have mastered a procedural skill requiring only a few steps, they need to return to the task and repeat it periodically to retain it. The more they repeat the new skill, the more likely it will “stick,” becoming part of their “crystallized” intelligence.

So here is Tip #4: Be repetitive.

Be very repetitive. Come back to a learned skill frequently, even while building on that skill and knowledge. Don’t just give them opportunities to practice a new skill, encourage it. Emphasize the necessity of practicing the new skill. Require practice, if possible. I have found older adults will forget what they have “mastered” within two days when they do not practice the new skill. I sometimes compare learning to use computers to learning another language: the more they use it, the easier it gets, and conversely, the less it is used, the harder it is to remember.

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