Smartphones have the potential to improve our patients’ lives in so many ways. They can act as memory aids, AAC, social connectors, and much more.
In fact, a recent systematic review found that smartphones can improve prospective memory and task execution in people with impaired cognition.
In this post, you’ll find 10 adult speech therapy activities using a smartphone or tablet. They’re intended to help patients learn the basic functions of their devices. Expand on these activities for your more tech-savvy patients.
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Using A Smartphone For Speech Therapy
Get Buy In
First, check if your patient even wants to learn how to use their smartphone! Many are intimidated by the new technology, but with encouragement, can be convinced to give it a try.
But if your patient truly has no interest, it may be the end of the road for their smartphones or tablet! If they’re not interested or find their device too frustrating or ineffective, no worries! There are plenty of other ways to meet their speech therapy goals.
Keep It Functional
As always, keep it functional! Discuss your patient’s daily schedule to identify times when a phone or tablet might make their life better. Think safety, independence, quality of life, and, of course, what the patient wants.
Refer to OT and/or PT as needed for help with positioning and accessing their device.
For example, you may have a patient who loves their iPad pro but is having a hard time physically using the touch screen. OT can help identify the underlying cause and make recommendations to improve access (adapted stylus, foam build-up, positioning tips, etc.).
Use Memory Strategies
Target memory during smartphone tasks by using memory strategies!
With some patients, you may use the memory strategy “repeat, repeat, repeat” by performing the same smartphone task over and over again. With others, you may use task analysis and spaced retrieval.
Emphasize to all patients that memory plays a big part in learning these new smartphone skills. And that using these strategies will support their memory.
Task analysis helps patients learn new skills by breaking down a task into smaller steps. Task analysis is especially handy when working on more complex tasks.
For example, checking and deleting voicemails can be broken down into these steps:
1. Touch the phone icon
2. Touch the voicemail button
3. Touch play, etc.
10 Adult Speech Therapy Activities Using a Smartphone
The following activities are most appropriate for patients with mild memory issues or mild cognitive impairment.
1. Introduce The Basics
Introduce the basics of using a phone or tablet with your patient. Afterall, it’s often frustration with these basics that cause people to give up on their devices too soon!
How To Use The Basics
- Unlock and lock
- Mute and unmute
- Change volume
- Check battery life
- Charge the device
2. Use A Calendar
Teach patients how to use their device’s calendar to support their goals.
How To Use A Calendar
- Add appointments
- Type in appointments
- Save appointments
- Edit new appointments
- Notification for appointments
Decide with your patient how they will receive notifications for the appointments in their calendar. Will they look at the calendar each day? Set up sound notifications? Text notifications?
3. Use Voicemail
Help your patients remain connected and in the loop by teaching them up to use their smartphone’s voicemail.
How To Use Voicemail
- Check for new voicemails
- Play a voicemail
- Replay a voicemail
- Call a number back
- Delete a voicemail
To improve success, educate on the parameters of the voicemail. For example, how many messages will the voicemail box hold? Who should they call when they need help? Who is their voicemail carrier?
4. Use Reminders
Teach patients how to set up reminders. Educate them on why and how to incorporate reminders into their lives.
For example, they can set up text reminders when adding an appointment to their calendar. Or set up a daily alarm each morning as a medication reminder.
How To Use Reminders
- Set up reminders
- Edit reminders
- Change how they receive reminders (an alarm, text, etc.)
- Delete old reminders
5. Use Alarms
Use an alarm to help patients get (and stay!) on a schedule.
In the same vein as reminders, setting up alarms on a smartphone or tablet can be super helpful in improving patient safety, independence, and quality of life.
Example alarms are wake-up time, meals, medications, exercise, feeding the cat, letting out the dog, bedtime, etc.
How To Use Alarms
- Set up an alarm
- Change the name of the alarm (“Take Medications”)
- Change the sound of the alarm
- Turn off the alarm
- Snooze the alarm
6. Take Notes
A notes app can be very helpful in helping patients record (and find!) important information.
They can use the app to record questions for their doctor, take notes at a medical appointment, make a grocery list, keep track of symptoms (blood pressure, etc.), plan a trip, and, of course, take notes on whatever interests them!
How To Take Notes
- Access the notes app
- Add a new note
- Edit an existing note
- Delete old notes
- Use voice-to-text feature
- Use a stylus/finger to write or draw directly onto their note on a tablet
7. Make Phone Calls
With all of the features that smartphones offer, it’s easy to overlook their original function: Making phone calls!
How to Make Photo Calls
- Answer phone calls
- Make phone calls
- Add contacts
- Look up contacts
- Video calls
- Hang up
Help your patients socialize and stay connected by learning how to text.
How To Text
- Add contacts
- Reply to texts
- Start a new text
- Send photos
- Open received photos
- Open links
- Return to text screen
9. Take Photos
Taking photos can be fun and engaging. It can also help your patient remember and keep track of information.
For example, they can take a picture of their doctor’s instructions in an after-visit handout, in case they misplace it.
How To Take Photos
- Open camera
- Place the camera in the correct setting (photo mode vs video, front facing vs rear, etc.)
- Find photos
- Delete photos
- Edit photos (crop, filter, etc.)
- Share photos (text or email)
- Add photos to a notes app
10. Download Apps
Once your patient is comfortable using their phone or tablet, they may want to explore the vast (and fun!) world of apps online.
Keeping Personal Info Secure
Use your best judgment when deciding which patients are independent enough to safely download their own apps. For instance, only those who can independently and safely manage their own finances should be downloading a bank app.
Provide basic education on how to safeguard personal information:
- Create secure passwords
- Securely keep track of passwords
- When it’s safe to give identifying information (e.g. address & credit card number to make purchases on trusted websites)
- Set up and use 2-factor authorization, face recognition, etc.
How To Download Apps
- Set up an account
- Look for free apps
- Read app reviews
- Download apps
- Delete apps
- Open apps
- Organize apps on their home screen
- Google Maps (use the “Saved parking” feature to remember where they parked)
- Communication (e.g., Zoom, WhatsApp)
- Magnifying glass + Flashlight
- Bus routes, transportation
- Libby library app (to check out and use free audio and ebooks from their local library)
- Social media
- Streaming (e.g., Netflix, Hulu)
- Word games (crossword puzzles, word search)
- Numbers games (sudoku)
- Card games (gin rummy, solitaire)
- Games (e.g. Candy Crush)
- Hobbies (e.g., Garden Answers, Duolingo, Spotify)
More Speech Therapy Materials
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Brandt, et al. (2020) Information and communication technology-based assistive technology to compensate for impaired cognition in everyday life: a systematic review, Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 15:7, 810-824