Read On! (Selecting the Right Technology for an Aging Parent)

by Dale on February 15, 2011

Emily Abel

Emily Abel

Thanks to our guest blogger, Emily Abel.  Emily is a RESNA certified Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), a member of the Indiana Geriatrics Society, and a member of the International Society of Gerontechnology. She is also a graduate student in the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community’s Aging Studies program. She makes presentations and consults on assistive technology for the aging population around the country.

emily image for blogpostMy mom loves to read.  She goes to book club at her local library every month.  She likes non-fiction, historical fiction, but she doesn’t like science fiction.  My mom has rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in her hands.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. More women than men get rheumatoid arthritis. It often starts between ages 25 and 55. You might have the disease for only a short time, or symptoms might come and go. The severe form can last a lifetime (U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010).

Over time, Mom’s RA has interfered with her love of reading as holding books became more difficult. I suggested she might consider getting an e-reader like the Amazon Kindle, a electronic device that is the size of a small book, lightweight, portable, easy to use and can hold hundreds of books, but she wasn’t interested.  She said, “Part of what I like about reading is holding the book and turning the pages.”  She said she would just lean her book against a pillow.  So, that was the end of that.

Even with that solution, from time to time Mom would complain that it was too difficult to hold a book in bed. She asked if I could find something to hold it for her, like a book stand.  We tried a couple of different things, but nothing seemed to suit her.  I told her about a book holder that was floor mounted beside her bed, had an extended arm that held a small platform to hold her book.  She said, she might be interested in trying it, but when she learned the price, she adamantly said, “No.”

Mom was talking on the phone with an older niece who happens to use a Kindle.  She told her niece that she didn’t want to get one because she likes to use the library and doesn’t want to spend money on buying books. Her niece told her that there were a lot of free books; that she would only have to purchase them if she wanted a newly released one.  Shortly after, Mom called me and said, “I guess having a Kindle would work for me.”

In the meantime, I had looked on the library website to see what books I might download on an e-reader if she ever decided to try it.  My mom’s library uses for their e-books.  Overdrive is a leading full-service digital distributor of eBooks, audio books, music, and video. It is based on the popular public library service available at 13,000 libraries worldwide.         Much to my surprise, the Kindle was not compatible with any of the e-books.  I called the research librarian to double-check that I wasn’t misunderstanding.  No, she said, “Kindle is not compatible with any books through  They (Kindle) are working on compatibility, but are not there yet.”  Well, I guess that makes sense because Amazon, distributors of Kindle, would not benefit from having a device that people could use without purchasing books.

Fortunately; however there are many readers that are compatible with the formats used on, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook; Kobo; Literati; Pandigital; and Sony.  Other compatible e-books devices include: Apple iPad; iPhone; iPod Touch; Archos 5; HTC Droid; and several other phones with internet capabilities.  Pricing is based on available features.

If you want a basic black and white reader take a look at the Nook and Kobo.  The Nook Wifi is $149 and the Nook Wifi 3G is $199.  The Kobo is $120.  To make things more difficult for users, each device has its strengths and weaknesses.

For Mom, we decided to go with the Nook Wifi. It best fit the features we were looking for in an e-reader for Mom:

  • Easy to use (not a lot of buttons and steps)
  • Something she can do independently (maybe a few cheat sheets to get her going).
  • Variable font size to make the print larger if she wishes

Though not important to my mom, some e-readers also offer a voice output feature. Mom said audio books make her go to sleep!

If you’re considering an e-reader for yourself or for a loved one, you might want to check out this detailed comparison: For a detailed opinion report, please go to Top Ten Reviews


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