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Five Tips to Help Your Parents with Technology

Adult children frequently assist their parents with choosing and setting up computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.  Sometimes this is successful for the senior. Other times it’s not.

More than once I have witnessed an older client’s family member help the client select or set up a device. After the family leaves, the client can’t use it.

This happened recently with Sarah who is in her eighties. When Sarah’s daughter visited recently, she helped her purchase a smart phone. Sarah told me her daughter loves this particular phone. She travels internationally for work, and her phone, I’m sure, is an essential business tool. Sarah, however, doesn’t need or want all the functions her daughter uses. Although she only wants to make phone calls, she can’t use her new phone. Sarah has two obstacles: her arthritic fingers make it a challenge to press the buttons and swipe in the right places, and, she can’t remember the steps to make a call or look up a contact.

Another client, Janet who suffers from the early stages of dementia, wants to e-mail her friends. Her son set up e-mail on her laptop in such a way that Janet first needs to open an internet browser, then locate her e-mail program. Janet can’t do this. If the e-mail program doesn’t launch immediately when she opens her browser, she cannot remember how to navigate to it.

I believe my clients’ family members mean well and are truly trying to help. They haven’t considered, however, their parents’ needs and abilities.

If you find yourself helping an elder with technology, I encourage you to keep these five thoughts in mind:

1. Understand many older adults are uncomfortable with technology – even when they already use it. To many people, computers are not at all intuitive, and they fear what will happen if they press the wrong button. (This isn’t true of every senior. I have met 90-year-olds who solve tech problems and teach people thirty years their junior how to use cell phones and computers.)

2. Be clear on what your loved one needs the device to do. While you may be transferring money, checking your home alarm system, or sending photos to a note taking program, your senior may only want to make phone calls, type letters, or send e-mail.

3. Take into consideration your loved one’s physical and cognitive limitations, and help him choose a device appropriate for his needs and abilities. Consider computers and phones designed specifically for seniors.

4. Set up the most direct path to the programs she wants to use. If you don’t know how to do this, seek out someone who can help.

5. Plan to spend time teaching or find someone who can teach your loved one to use his technology.

I believe it is important to be selective when choosing a helper or teacher. Many of my clients have experienced the exasperation of technology-savvy helpers when my clients do not “get it” on the first try. (This is especially true when they go to tech support offered at many stores.) A good helper understands seniors did not grow up with computers, many don’t have an intuitive sense on how to use them, and, if they are experiencing memory decline, need to be shown and be able to practice over and over again.

The names of the individuals in this article have been changed to protect their privacy. This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.