For About and By Caregivers
Making Technology Simple

By  Trish Hughes Kreis


It is amazing how a computer can bring seniors who aren’t mobile or who live alone connection to the outside world.  With people moving all over to find jobs or go to school, families are more spread out than ever.  Depression is a common result of the isolation felt by those whose friends, children and grandchildren live in a different state (or even country).  The ability to use a computer and navigate programs can make a senior feel like part of the world again. 

Technology!  It can easily connect us with our kids or grandkids or even great-grandkids who live across the country but only if we knew how these darn things work.  How do I turn on this webcam (much less connect it to my computer) so I can see my grandkids when they lose their first tooth?  How can I send a quick good luck message to my great-granddaughter before her next soccer game?  How can I easily shop for birthdays if I have trouble getting around or can no longer drive?  How can we know how these great tools work if the technology changes at such a fast pace?  How can we keep up? 

There are now many products available on the market to help make technology simpler and easy to use.  There are programs that can be loaded onto a traditional desktop computer that turn the screen into an easy to navigate menu of options.  Easy access to email, online shopping, picture sharing and even a few games make time at the computer less frustrating and time-consuming.  These programs can turn the monitor into a touch screen making it much easier to use for those living with arthritic hands or tremors. 

With the growing senior population, tech companies have realized there is a need for different kinds of monitors, keyboards and mice as well.  Monitors are lighter weight yet have much larger screens than the old, bulky box style monitors.  Keyboards have been redesigned to be ergonomically friendly, making typing less taxing on the hands and wrist.  There are also keyboards with larger keys and letters printed in more contrast, making them easier to see.  There is even at least one keyboard that will allow a letter to be typed only once when pressed, no matter how long the key is held down.  Those who have slower reflexes or limited dexterity will appreciate this feature.  The mouse has gone through many changes as well with all kinds of shapes, sizes and features available now to fit all hands comfortably.

Other products make the entire operation even simpler.  Instead of a program that has to be loaded onto a traditional PC, the computer comes ready to use out of the box.  Plug it into the internet and the wide screen is easy to read and navigate.  There isn’t even a keyboard to worry about!  Being able to talk to grandchildren while seeing them through the video monitor on the computer is a special treat and will help stave off those difficult times when missing the kids is overwhelming.  Don’t forget the kids can see you too!  I know of one grandma who didn’t realize this and got on the computer before she, um, was ready for the day.  Oops!

At least one available “ready out of the box” product also has a feature that allows a friend or family member to be the designated “help desk” person instead of having to call a stranger for customer support and waiting on hold for eons.  This feature allows the designated person to remotely access the computer to troubleshoot any problems the user might be experiencing.  I would much rather have my daughter help me with my computer problems than a technical person whose complex instructions I may not be able to follow. 

Cell phones have also been designed with the aging population in mind.  There are phones available with larger number buttons, similar to the changes made to landline phones.  The volume on cell phones designed for seniors can make talking on the phone much easier and much less frustrating. 

Research and a “test run” is critical when deciding on which cell phone, computer equipment or programs to use.  What works for one person may not be the right fit for someone else.  Do the research and get input from the person who will be using the equipment or program by testing out different products.  Many companies offer trial periods for their products which makes hands-on testing easy and convenient.  It’s difficult to choose what might actually work best until the person sits in front of the computer or talks on the phone and tries it out for a while.

Once the senior is set up with access to photos, video sharing, email and the internet, the connection to the outside world is restored and the ability to maintain a close relationship with loved ones will bring great joy to everyone involved.  And it will give grandma a great excuse to go shopping online.   

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