By Mitch Reitman, Director of Development
As a present for Hanukkah, my wife had the brilliant idea of buying a PC tablet for my mother-in-law as a gift. My mother-in-law has been resistant to getting a smart phone, feeling that she would not use all that it is capable of doing, and would not be able to learn how to use it. She liked her plain old flip phone. My wife felt that it would be great if her mother would be able to access the internet, Facebook and email while she watched TV or laid in bed. She would enjoy being able to play her computer games wherever she wanted and would be able to save money using apps for shopping, restaurants, etc.
When we gave her the gift, she was delighted, but then we watched her anxiety increasing. She had tons of questions: How do I turn it on? How do I remember all these passwords? Where are the instructions? We spent several grueling hours showing her the functions of the tablet that we thought that she would most utilize (email, calendar, weather, news, Google). She struggled to be able to press the keys saying that her fingers were too big for the keypad and wondering if she would have to cut her fingernails to type. We also showed her that she could actually speak into the microphone to search for what she wanted to inquire about, rather than having to type. After a while, we decided that we all had enough for the night. We realized how overwhelming it was to try to change in one night the way someone has always communicated their entire life. We told her to go home, charge up the tablet all the way, and practice turning the device on and off, send a few emails, and play the solitaire game that we uploaded for her.
We told her that later in the week we will show her a few more apps that we think she would enjoy using. We know that it will take her time to learn to use it, but we are convinced with practice and usage, she will become more proficient. If we tried to show her everything all at once, she would become more frustrated and stop using it. This actually was what happened when I tried showing my own mother how to use the iPad she got from her friends as a birthday present last year (and now sits in a kitchen drawer), as well as the droid phone that she says is too small for her to read.
In gleaning articles about how to help elderly utilize technology, I have come across the following recurring themes:
- Help them with the technical set up. Set up the desktop the same way that their computer is set up so that they can more easily access what they are looking for and navigate.
- Find out what interests them and download the apps that you believe are consistent with those interests and that you think they would find interesting. Don’t overload them with apps that you are interested in. The most popular activities that older people utilize are:
-Researching family history
-Using Skype to contact friends and family
-Looking up previous addresses in Google Maps
-Playing online games.
If you are helping elderly family members or friends with new technologies, the most important barriers that you will need to help them with are:
-They need to be helped to get over the technical issues (e.g., rebooting, increasing/decreasing sound, making these bigger).
-Just as we teach our children, we need to teach our elderly about on-line safety issues.
-And most importantly, keep it simple and relevant so that they can enjoy all that new technologies offer to enhance their lives.