While some people over 60 are great with computers, many have never used one before. They may be afraid of it or believe that they are too old to learn something new, maybe they think it’s too expensive or maybe they just don’t see the point. Sometimes older people have ‘technophobia’ – they may be scared they will damage the computer or ‘break’ the Internet. Whatever the reasons, it is important to understand and deal with their concerns if you want to help them learn about computing and the World Wide Web. Everybody venturing into a new world needs a good guide to help them along the way.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the elderly often don’t want to ask for help from younger people – they may be afraid of being a nuisance, seeming silly, or being patronised. This shows why it’s so important to understand older people’s concerns surrounding technology before trying to introduce them to it.
Keep it Positive!:
To get the elderly interested in learning, it’s a good idea to tell them about some of the benefits of using computers and the Internet, including:
• Emailing friends and family – chainmail jokes and e-greeting cards are a great way to make learning about email more fun.
• Setting appointments and birthdays in their email calendar, and getting email reminders of upcoming events. Gmail is great for this.
• Apps and games to exercise their memory;
• Apps to record diets and fitness;
• Looking up previous homes on Google maps;
• Researching their family tree;
• Reliving the past with photos, even editing, cropping and making collages using apps;
• Saving photos sent to them in emails, and put them on a USB stick, take them to the shops and get them printed;
• Watching new TV shows, and catch up on episodes that they missed;
Top Ten Important Points:
1. For those who can already do some things on a computer, let them show you first what they can do. This creates a foundation that you can build off. If you try to teach them something they already know how to do, they may feel patronized.
2. Remember to go slowly! Rushing through things can confuse and overwhelm. Sometimes you can stop teach and simply watch them engaging with the computer – try to imagine what they are thinking if they pause between steps, and coach them along gently.
3. Technical terms are usually completely foreign to the elderly. This does not just include words like, ‘cookies’ and ‘buffering’ but also terms like ‘upload’ and ‘URL’. You can explain some of these words to them, and show them how to look up definitions online if they get confused by a term.
4. Health and physical issues may hinder their learning process, and the ability to use technology easily. Some things that seem like second nature to younger folk may be difficult for some forgetful older people to remember, like right mouse clicking over files to present options.
5. Teaching them to teach others will help them strengthen their skills. Once they know how you may suggest they teach their friends how to open a Gmail account, Facebook or Skype, so they can all enjoy the benefits of the Internet together.
6. Some older people have never used a keyboard board before. A good starting point is to get them writing in Word, to let them get used to finding all the letters. They might ask why it isn’t in alphabetical order, and you can explain that typing levers in old typewriters used to jam, and the QWERTY layout turned out to be the best way to avoid jams. Some older people have tremors and hold keys down for too long, ending up with multiple letters when they only wanted the one. Filter Keys is a great way to avoid this by slowing down the keyboard.
7. Using a mouse can be very difficult, and research has shown that touch screen tablets are easier for the elderly to navigate intuitively, once they have been taught how to do so. Carrying these devices around is also easier, and the absence of many wires and multiple components (computer, screen, mouse, keyboard, speakers) can make the whole learning process less intimidating.
8. The elderly may think that their tablet needs to be plugged into work, like a toaster or fridge. You can explain to them how the battery charges up so they can move around with their device, and how to check the level of their battery.
9. Sometimes text can be too small for them to read. You can change the settings on the computer or tablet for them so that text will appear larger. The same is true for the volume of sounds. They may not even be aware of the option to increase and decrease volume and text size.
10. People from older generations may be under the impression that nothing comes free. They may think that website content costs money, or that they have pay per use for apps. It’s worth explaining to them that most things are free, like articles on the BBC website, and most online games. When it comes to buying things online, older people are often very concerned about using their credit card details online. It’s very important to explain to them that security is very tight around most big Internet businesses, and also to talk to them about the necessary precautions they need to take. Show them how to identify Internet scams and fake e-mails appearing to be from banks etc. You should also help them set up anti-virus software.
The Modern Age
The Internet is one of the phenomena that define our modern age. It has long been considered the realm of the younger generations, which may discourage older people and leave them disengaged. Technology is always changing, and older people may get frustrated and fail to see the point in learning something that will only change in a year’s time. The idea of “keeping up with the young ones” isn’t the best incentive to get the elderly online, because it gives them the feeling that they have been left behind, which may incite fear or even apathy. Stepping away from this, and showing them that the Internet is perhaps better suited to an older person’s lifestyle than the younger lifestyle, maybe the best way to get them interested. At the end of the day, if you keep patient and make the learning experience fun for them, they will probably find that they thoroughly enjoy the benefits of the new technological world.