Helping Seniors Master Computers

Teaching Dad to use the PCHelping Seniors Master Computers is a guest article by James Owens with many added comments by the editor.

A Pew Internet survey shows that 53 percent of people over 65 are now online. Only a third of these adults actually use social media, with email being their preferred way to communicate.

EDITOR: The oldest age group in most market research, including the Pew survey, is 65+, but what about the “real” seniors 75+ or 85+? They are far less likely to use technology and will need more help getting started, according to this article by Laurie Orlov.

With some support, your senior friends and family members could be using their computers for a whole lot more. These suggestions will get you thinking of ways you can help them branch out with new computer skills:

Show the Benefits of Computer Skills

The seniors in your life may not know what a computer is good for. In a time of their lives when they don’t need one for school or work, getting them excited about the benefits will be motivation to learn how to use new technology. The New York Times notes that it’s a good way for seniors to get connected with friends, family and their community. Show them how they can connect with family through social media and check on community events. Websites such as SeniorNet can get them connected with other seniors who are also learning the technology.

EDITOR: SeniorNet costs $40/year for classroom assistance, but the closest classroom to me in Austin was 90 miles away in San Antonio. If your senior uses an iPad or Mac as I recommend, then they can get one-on-one consulting and classes at the local Apple store for $99/year, a bargain in my opinion.

Make It Easier for Them

Seniors may become intimidated, sitting in front of a screen full of icons. You can simplify their world, says Huffington Post, with tools such as Eldy ( This software turns a PC, Mac or tablet screen into just a few large, easy to read buttons that start the most used applications when pressed. It is available free for Windows, Mac and some Android tablets.

A more sophisticated product comes from SeeYouLink (, and adds features such as games and video calling. This product also lets you remotely control their computer so you can help them when they get lost with a particular function. SeeYouLink is free to download for Windows desktops, laptops and tablets.

Another product, Telikin ( is an all-in-one computer with an operating system that is configured with large buttons and icons, built-in speakers and a video camera. This uses a touch screen for seniors who have problems using a keyboard. This all-in-one unit comes with a touch screen computer, keyboard and mouse for around $1,000 for the 20 inch model.

EDITOR: By now you may guess that I’m no fan of PCs, software, or even phones that are “dumbed down” for seniors. They’re not stupid, but a simplified user interface can help. That itself is a great reason to get them an iPad. And since they may be calling YOU for tech support, you can do yourself a favor by getting them the same thing you yourself use. Then consider the accessibility features that Apple includes and the tons of health & wellness apps, and you’ll find it hard to justify anything else.

Make It More Accessible

For seniors with diminished eyesight, get them a large monitor. A 19 inch or 21 inch screen will reduce eye strain. If they have difficulty with a keyboard and mouse, a tablet might be a better solution. Teach them how to use a stylus, too, if their touch is not always precise on the screen.

An eBook reader on the computer will help them tap into many resources. Libraries are beginning to check out eBooks online from their catalogs. The readers often let you control font size and character darkness so you can set these up for the senior’s best reading experience. The Kindle Touch has built in text-to-speech (TTS) capability to allow seniors to listen to eBooks as they read them. The iPhone and iPad both have built in TTS. For Android phones and tablets, install FBReader and the TTS plug-in (available from the Google Play store) to get the same capabilities on those devices.

Automate It

Set up as many automated functions as you can on the senior’s computer. The less steps and buttons to click, the better. For example, create shortcuts on the screen to get them to their favorite websites. Also make sure they know how to get to important sites like their medical provider or the AARP Insurance website. Install and configure software such as a cloud storage solution to automatically backup their important files to the cloud. Set their email accounts to regularly check for mail. Send a notification to the screen, and have it make a sound when new mail is detected.

EDITOR: When selecting the device, also consider the Internet connection. In An iPad for All Ages, I describe how the newer models can work with cellular phone connections that avoid the need to install broadband home networks, again making iPad the ideal choice for seniors in most cases.

Make It Fun

Add links and software that give your senior some fun and entertaining options. offers brain-games that challenge the mind. YourLifeChoices ( offers daily crossword puzzles that can be done on- or off-line. Typing Web ( is a free online typing tutor for those seniors wanting to polish up on their typing skills.


Tech Use in Assisted Living Facilities

EDITOR: A few months ago I visited a very nice assisted living facility to give a talk on “Moore’s Law and the Future of Healthcare,” where I looked 30-40 years into the future through the lens of a technologist. All of my examples would likely occur in my lifetime (I’m 65) but probably not in theirs. Still, the audience was very engaged and interested, but there were some surprising observations:

  1. No one there owned or used a PC, so there was little chance that they’d personally visit my website afterwards. They also had not experienced video conferencing with family, friends, or healthcare providers. That may have been because institutional shielded them from such things.
  2. No one there owned a Smartphone either. Even so, they understood the tremendous advancements in tech innovation that makes my iPhone 5 able to execute programmed instructions 10,000 faster than the $3.5 million IBM mainframe computer that I worked on 40 years ago. And they understood that even more advancement would take that power to the size of a cell that flows through the blood to seek out and destroy cancers, or connects with neurons to amplify our cognitive abilities.
  3. And no one there was obese. Most used a walker, and only one used a wheelchair. I guessed that maybe the obese people died off earlier, which is consistent with stats I’ve seen about average lifespan differences.

One speculative reason that market researchers have not spent more time studying the 75+ demographic is that they’re focused instead on the larger Baby Boom segment, since that’s where the bigger profits are.

Related Articles

The following articles give different perspectives of getting your senior online. As you’ve already noticed, rather than a Windows PC, Mac, or some proprietary “build-for-seniors” device, my favorite is the Apple iPad.