Monday, February 22, 2010

Ipad's Brain Fitness: Advantages and Disadvantages

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
When you have some basic problems with your hands, why not make life easier on yourself?  I really have more problems manipulating a computer than most folks.  So periodically, I look at different things to make my life easier and I am very excited about the iPad and tablet computers in general.   But I am also very excited about using the iPad for brain fitness.

Part of what I look at are general ease-of-use and universal design features, but I am also looking at how these devices can enhance brain fitness.   So how do you evaluate brain fitness?  There are nice well defined protocols for universal design and accessibility but brain fitness is a new concept.  Brain Fitness is the notion that cognitive abilities can be maintained or improved by exercising the brain, in analogy to the way physical fitness.  If you look up Brain Fitness in Wikipedia, it is pooh-poohed.  But a number of very prominent neuroscientists such as Elkhonon Goldberg and Mezernich would disagree.

Brain Fitness is important for more people than just people with learning disabilities.  It is important for the aged, the aging, and people with mental illness.  As people age, their cognitive abilities and memory decreases.  People with mental illness also can suffer from a fog that inhibits their ability to remember and process information.  Also, brain fitness means enhanced cognition for the well.... it means that you can think quicker and remember more.

Over at Sharp Brains, they have been published a nice checklist of features that the general public can use when evaluating these devices.  More and more these devices can function as extensions of ourselves if we choose to use them this way.  Portability means that the device can be taken everywhere as we go through our daily routines.  Application Features that are important to brain fitness include:  Powerful personal task-manager, Graphic Organizer, Powerful outliner, User-activity monitor,  and an integrated self-testing system.  A personal task manager can be an orthotic device, ie, an assist like a cane is for those can't walk very well, and help keep us on track.  I am highly dependent on ical right now on my Mac.  When I dropped my computer, I was at a loss for a few days until the new screen came in  because I literally didn't know when my doctor's appointments were scheduled.  A Graphic Organizer is very nice for me.... I don't know why this is given that I am diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disorder, but I like to see things organized in pictures.  For people who are highly visual thinkers, this type of organization is critical.  On the other hand, for a person with a true non-verbal learning disorder that thinks in words or for people with visual problems, I can see how a graphic organizer could be really annoying.  For these people the next feature, a good Outliner will be critical, as they can organize themselves in a fashion that suits their needs.  An outliner will be very helpful to me as I do think linearly especially when I am trying to compose my thoughts in writing a document in a formal setting.  I will be posting later on about using the software program, Inspiration and its help in writing documents, web pages and Powerpoint presentations.  In fact, if I were more organized, I'd be using it to structure my blog contents better.  But, it seems that it is somehow hard enough at this point, just to get my thoughts down in written form however, well or poorly organized.  At some point, though, it might be nice to have well-structured paragraphs for my readers.  Maybe after a little bit more therapy kicks in, I will try.  A User activity monitor would be nice because I could start tracking what some of my cognitive errors are, especially before and after a given therapy.  After the balametrics and tomatis therapy  that I have done at A Total Approach and the vision therapy with Dr. Herzberg, I feel a lot more organized and it is not quite so hard to manipulate a keyboard. So it might be interesting to really track what I am still having problems with.  An integrated self-testing framework would be nice because I could construct my own little tests to my exact needs.

Other things that the article looked at included defining major cognitive features to include:  System integration and syncing, a Rich annotation framework, Collaboration, Mute Function Attention, and Affordable, ratable content.  System integration and syncing is really important because cut and paste doesn't always work to well when you have a very poor visual memory -- mine is only 9%.  I can't always remember where it was or what I am doing in mid stream.  So if you add to the fact that you can't remember what you are cutting and pasting with the mechanical problems of grabbing, you find that some of the great innovations of ease-of-use of computers really don't work as well for you as for most people.  When information is integrated and synced between applications, it automatically populates cells.  Very important when your eyes don't track.  Collaboration is a nice feature as it means that information is shared.  This means my husband can add items to my calendar or tasks to a task list!  I can also do likewise to him.  A mute function is good to protect against information overload.  And finally, affordable, ratable content means that I can get to information or books that I want without  paying an arm and a leg.  If a vendor does not strike deals to get content, a device is rendered useless.

So here's a quick evaluation of the Ipad that I found over at Sharp Brains.  I will be excited to try the iPad when it comes out.

iPad Evaluation Check-List

Criteria Assessment
Powerful personal task-manager Yes (Third-party)
Graphic Organizer Yes (third-party)
Powerful outliner Yes (third-party)
User-activity monitor No (but within reach of Apple)
Integrated self-testing system No (third-party can do part of this).
Major Cognitive Features
System integration and syncing Yes (for what is provided, annotations not yet supported)
Rich annotation framework No (but it is within reach of Apple)
Collaboration Some (annotations not supported)
Mute function (Attention Protection) Close (iPad is attention-friendly)
Affordable, rated content Major publishers are on board; book prices currently high; intelligent quality rating system not announced
From SharpBrains article by Luc P. Beaudoin