Which Is Better for Older Adults?

If you've avoided digital devices in favor of printed books, you might want to rethink that decision—especially if you have vision problems. A study from Germany published in February 2013 by the journal PLOS One found that older adults read faster and better using certain electronic devices.

Researchers asked 36 younger adults (ages 21–34) and 21 older adults (ages 60–77) to read nine short texts on two devices—an Apple iPad 2 and an Amazon Kindle 3—and on a white printed page, which all participants said they overwhelmingly preferred at the beginning of the study. The readers' brain activity was tracked via electroencephalogram (EEG), and the speed of their eyes as they moved over the page was measured.

The results showed no difference in activity among the three formats for the younger adults, but the older adults read more efficiently and comfortably with the iPad than with either the Kindle or the printed page. The authors speculate that the iPad made it easier for older adults to read because of its backlit display, which enhances contrast sensitivity, such as the ability to discern black text on a white background. Contrast sensitivity declines with age and age-related vision ailments such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

Other pluses of e-devices: You can increase the text size to suit your eyesight, reverse the color scheme (reading white type on a black background if you prefer) and download thousands of books.

If you'd like to try a digital reader, look for a backlit device such as the iPad 2, the Kindle Paperwhite or the NOOK HD. Features—and prices—vary widely on each, especially if you want to do more than read, so do your homework before purchasing a device.

Some features to consider:

  • portability,
  • screen size,
  • color screen versus black and white,
  • the ability to browse the Web and receive or send email,
  • text messaging,
  • multimedia access (such as games, music, movies), and
  • storage capacity.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 30 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 30 Jul 2013