Seniorization of Computers and Our Perception of Seniors Who Use Them – or Would if Given a Chance

The everyday use of computers by people who came of age before the personal computer was common or even invented is something many people thought would likely never happen.

Does that mean seniors don’t use computers?

Of course not.

In fact, we have seen many computers in the homes, including nursing homes, of seniors when there are no members of younger generations around — with very good reason.

It’s not just computers but, increasingly, tablets and smartphones with screens that transport the senior around the globe or down the street!

Grandchildren living near and far who won’t pick up the phone to call senior family members (okay, maybe children too) often will much more readily open up their tablet or smartphone and knock out a quick email or text message.

Devices are for All Ages

People of all ages are increasingly using computing technology to keep in touch with the rest of the world, to keep up with the news of the day, and to shop without having to trek down to the mall or big box store.

More than 75% of those 55 and older have internet in their homes, according to the Consumer Technology Association in its 18th Annual Consumer Technology Ownership and Market Potential Study. A recent survey by Pew Research reported that more than half of seniors (65+) either have broadband internet in their home or use a cellular data connection.

Seniors and tablet manufacturers have both benefited from the timing of seniors’ growing use of the web, as tablets are the internet device of choice for many seniors. We have seen studies showing tablet ownership as high as three-fourths of all seniors on the web.

Seniorization of Digital Devices

So what’s this about the “seniorization” of digital devices?

It’s not about the devices themselves, but about people. Yes, more older adults are using computers, tablets and smartphones in many aspects of their lives, but it’s not just about that.

The seniorization of digital is as much about the realization of those in younger generations and the developers/marketers of tech products and services that seniors are using the devices — that they want to use them and enjoy doing so.

Seniors are using computing devices to connect with family and friends, stream media, find information – including medical knowledge, medication management, coupons, jokes, and brain games – as well as a many more purposes.

Yes, digital has become as much a part of the lives of many seniors as it has for their children and grandchildren.

But Not Digital Natives

While many older adults are making digital communication and computing technology integral parts of their lives, they are not “digital natives” like many of those who are younger.

Our senior loved ones weren’t born in a time when toddlers Facetime on an iPad or text messaging was a primary form of communication, so they may need some help in adapting.

But do they need any adaptations to make the computer easier to use?

Certainly the same computer can be used by those of all ages, can’t it?

Yes, but … it is important to take into account how aging affects their ability to easily use technology, such as their eyes that might not be as sharp as they were at one time and their fingers that aren’t quite as nimble.

If the tech devices they choose to use are made easier through adaptations then even more will use them to gain benefits for themselves and their families. An example of this is the grandPad, which was the subject of a recent Senior Care Corner Show.

10 Tips to Help Seniors Use Computers Effectively

How can their computers and other tech devices be “seniorized” for easier access?

(1) Adjustable Zoom Screen Views

When it comes to viewing what is on the screen of the computer, ensure a senior’s device makes it easy to zoom the view out and enlarge the print, if needed, so that users of all acuity levels can take in the content.

(2) User-friendly Keyboards

Don’t overlook the importance of having a keyboard that meet the needs of the senior using it.

Keyboards often have characters that are small or otherwise difficult to read and keys that are too small or too close together to be adequate for use by many senior fingers.

The solution to this need not be the purchase of a new computer, but the purchase of a new keyboard designed with these limitations in mind. Chester Creek, for example, offers several large print keyboards. These keyboard and other similar products on the market have keys that are spaced further apart than on a standard keyboard and certainly more so than the keys on a laptop or netbook keyboard. This feature and larger key labels in black on a white background are adaptations that might make is easier for your senior friend or loved one to use the computer.

Even devices that have built-in keyboards, including notebook computers and tablets (which have on-screen keyboards) can be adapted to use an external, user-friendly keyboard. If you’re getting a keyboard for use with a tablet, look for one that can be connected by bluetooth.

One warning, though:  giving one of these keyboards to a senior may mean more emails to which you must respond!

(3) Ergonomics

Posture is important when using the computer. Are they using the right chair or the right lighting? Can they sit with their back and hips at a 90 degree angle? Are their feet on the floor? Is the computer screen at the right distance for proper viewing?

Sitting at the computer with the correct posture can reduce pain and strain when connecting.

Consider, too, any specific limitations that may prevent a senior user from working effectively with the computing device.

(4) Vision

If your senior has (or could use, but isn’t) corrective lenses to see clearly and will be spending a fair amount of time reading things on the computer screen, they may want to invest in an eyeglass prescription that takes into account computer depth. Of course, that applies to those of all ages.

Your senior may also want to adjust the screen resolution and contrast settings so that icons and words are easier to read. Did you know that each browser has a magnifier that can be used in addition to adjusted size settings to magnify something on the web that is too small for aging eyes to read?

(5) Voice activation

If your senior finds it difficult to type, will voice activated commands and typing help them to send emails or other computing functions?

Tablets have those functions built in, as do many computers. Check before buying if that function is needed, though, as built-in functions are typically easier overall to use than those added later via apps or installed programs.

(6) On-screen Keyboards

Seniors who might have trouble making their fingers dance over the keyboard or use a mouse, even if adapted, may prefer a touch screen computer or tablet that requires a tap on app icons to navigate the web.

(7) The Right Mouse Device

If your senior’s computer uses a mouse to move the cursor on the screen, consider if a wireless mouse would be beneficial, as it reduces the possibility of getting caught in wires. Keep in mind that being wireless also increases the possibility of the mouse being misplaced.

Some seniors (and other users) find difficult the motions needed to navigate a mouse. As with the keyboard, they may find a touch screen beneficial. They might also prefer to use a trackball, which is a stationary mouse-like device that uses a ball manipulated with the fingers to move the cursor.

(8) Accessibility Can Empower

Microsoft has an accessibility page discussing technology features that are intended to enable all to use a computer effectively, regardless of ability. Check it out if you think your senior might benefit.

(9) Good50 Search Engine for Seniors

Many seniors are hesitant to use a computer for fear of the dangers on the web, including phishing and malware. You can set up their web browser for safety and usability or set their default search engine to Good50 or something similar.

Good50 is a search site developed by two young social entrepreneurs who wanted to create a safe, user-friendly and more readable search site. It is powered by Google and automatically activates SafeSearch. It is eye-friendly and uses a larger font size for easier reading.

(10) Broadband Internet Access

Last — but far from least — on our list of tips is ensuring senior loved ones have access to reliable, easy-to-use broadband internet.

Think about all the things our seniors may want to do online, including making video calls with family, sharing pictures and videos, streaming entertainment, and many other applications that either require or work much better with the speeds broadband offers.

We can do everything else to get them on online but if all they can access is the slow lane and they find it difficult to get there, as can happen with dial-up access, they may get frustrated and quit before they understand the potential benefits the web offers.

Help Senior Loved Ones Benefit

Some of these ways to seniorize computing for your senior loved one are fairly simple. Others may require purchasing a somewhat different device.

Some may require a little set up on your part or someone in the family who is tech savvy like a grandchild to get them started.

It helps to seniorize ourselves, understanding that seniors are able to use computing devices and the web, though may need a little help, and many will want to do so when introduced to the digital world.

We are sure most of you will find that encouraging and facilitating your senior to get connected and reap the benefits of technology are worth a little troubleshooting and time investment on your part.

We’re also confident the devices and services available in the marketplace will consider even more the needs of older adults as the tech industry becomes more seniorized as well.

We would love to hear your senior’s computing experiences, wants or questions!