December 1, 2013 Columns

App-titude: Sophisticated—Yet Simple—Apps for Grown-ups

These apps can help older clients keep up with news, stay sharp, and improve communication.

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My generation had humdrum, paper calendars to help organize our busy lives. The fanciest features: the address book and U.S. map in the back. The more extravagant among us had the highly coveted—dare I say swanky—Franklin Covey Planner. My children's generation has Siri: a cherished, slightly more sophisticated friend. For this generation—the "digital natives," those born after 1980 into a world of digital technology—swiping a finger to turn a page on a mobile device is commonplace. They strike a stark contrast to our older adult clients—"digital immigrants"—who may be more resistant to or unfamiliar with new technology.

App-titudeHow can a skilled speech-language pathologist who sees the benefits of using this innovative treatment tool bridge the gap? The answer: using tablets in a way that supports and enhances a treatment session rather than replacing a familiar activity. The tablet sells itself—even to octogenarians. Here is a sampling of apps to consider for your adult clients.


Several apps organize the news into user-friendly, easy-to-navigate arrangements. Clients can navigate by key words or photos to find articles of interest. SkyGrid (free for iOS and Android) displays a personalized grid of photographs from the day's top news stories. Simply click on the photograph of interest and access the corresponding news article. The clear photographs and clean layout, with limited text, are beneficial for clients with receptive language deficits.

Also, try Pulse (free for iOS and Android), which, similar to SkyGrid, uses photographs to display a customized selection of news stories. The NPR News app (free iOS, Android) is a favorite for adult clients. It provides a written summary of news stories and programs such as "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition," as well as the audio version. Consider using Speak it! ($1.99 for iOS), a text-to-speech app that allows clients to paste text from other news apps, web pages and e-mails and to hear the text read aloud. This app also can be used for free text with an in-app keyboard.

Use it or lose it

Current research indicates that all of us, clients included, should continue to stimulate and challenge our minds with cognitive exercises. Staying brain fit is just as important as staying physically fit. Many apps and websites are available to exploit the brain's plasticity. Lumosity Mobile (free for iOS), BrainHQ by Posit Science (free for iOS), and Fit Brains Trainer (free for iOS) have apps for their subscription-based, "brain training" websites. These apps offer training modules for memory, attention, problem-solving and verbal fluency, and you can set reminders to use them. Chain of Thought (free for iOS and Android) is a verbal reasoning, word-association puzzle. Link the target word to a word in a word-pool by creating a common, two-word phrase: cow-boy-scout-master-piece-meal.

Treatment boost

2 Million HD Wallpapers ($0.99 for iOS) provides images of any topic or celebrity. Create a folder of target vocabulary to use for sematic feature analysis or for expanding verbal expression. Images can be saved to the iPhoto library or shared via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. Doodle Buddy (free for iOS) is a popular drawing app to target auditory comprehension and/or verbal expression in a barrier-style treatment task. Doodle Buddy is unique in that it allows clients to erase specific portions of their drawing rather than the entire picture. Take photos with the camera on the tablet to use as a background or use pre-loaded photos.

Heads Up! ($0.99 for iOS and Android) is a convergent naming app made famous by Ellen DeGeneres. Try to have your communication partner identify the target word or person shown on the tablet (typically placed on their head in true Ellen-style) by providing accurate descriptions and identifying salient features. 4 Pics 1 Word (free for iOS and Android) can be used for convergent naming or sentence patterning tasks. The app presents a grid of four pictures that have something in common. Use the letters at the bottom of the screen to unscramble the word that describes all four pictures.


CommunicAide, ($69.99 for iOS) developed by two SLPs, has an easy-to-navigate interface that allows clients with aphasia and other language disorders to communicate their needs. The large selection of real photographs (rather than picture symbol) appeals to adult clients. The user can customize photographs and text. The app also includes a body chart with sliding pain scale.

Once the "digital immigrants" get a taste of what this new technology can do, you might not get your tablet back.

This column is adapted from the author's article, "Therapy Session 2.0: From Static to Dynamic With the iPad," in the September 2012 issue of SIG 15 Perspectives on Gerontology.

Andrea Hirsch Atticks, MA, CCC-SLP, is the coordinator of adult neurogenics and of the Cognitive Enrichment Language Lab at the Loyola Clinical Centers in Baltimore, Md. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 15, Gerontology.

cite as: Atticks, A. H. (2013, December 01). App-titude: Sophisticated—Yet Simple—Apps for Grown-ups. The ASHA Leader.


Miller, K. J., Dye, R. V., Kim, J., Jennings, J. L., O'Toole, E., Wong, J., & Siddarth, P. (2013). Effect of a computerized brain exercise program on cognitive performance in older adults. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 21(7), 655. DOI: 10.1016/j.jagp.2013.01.077

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9, 1–6.


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