A Guide to Getting Older Seniors Online

Imagine your life without email, text messaging, photo sharing, or for that matter a computer at all. If you’re like me, some days this sounds pretty ideal. But then consider all of the missed interactions with friends and family or the world of information that would suddenly become unavailable if you were never able to go online again.

But this is the reality for more than 60% of seniors over the age of 75 who don’t use any type of computer, tablet or laptop*. That’s a significant portion of the population that are completely left out of everyday online conversations. It’s no wonder 40% of older seniors also self-identify as being socially isolated. We have a great communication divide – a consequence of rapidly changing technology that has left older seniors more isolated simply because they aren’t using the same methods of communication as everyone else.

I’m not suggesting that that sending an email should replace in-person visits or phone calls. We should all make the extra effort to see each other more often and pick up the telephone instead of dashing off a quick text message, but the practical realities are that online communication makes it easier to stay in touch more often. In my experience, an email with photos of the grandkids can provide significant social value to older seniors living on their own.

Certainly there are plenty of older seniors that are expert computer users, but there is reluctance among many who simply aren’t interested in trying to keep up with ever-changing operating systems, applications and hardware. And rightfully so. Traditionally, computers have been designed for people interested in technology, leaving the ‘uninterested’ user wondering why it has to be so difficult. Over the years things have gotten better. Apple products are certainly great examples of good design, but there’s still an assumption that people know that in order to visit a website, you open something called “Safari”, or if you want to start a video chat, you click on “Skype” or that each tiny pictograph icon means…?

confused

Source: BigThink.com

So how can we close the great communication divide by empowering seniors to get online? Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned hard way:

  1. It’s not for you, it’s for me – if you give a computer as a gift (in particular, anyone over 80 who comes from an amazingly selfless generation) you’re likely to get a response equivalent to “Oh, I don’t need that”. But by explaining that “using email makes it easier on the rest of the family to communicate with you”, I’ve found that they are much more receptive to trying it – because they’re doing it for someone else.
  2. One thing at a time – when first introducing new technology, start by showing only one feature. If you can, hide everything else. Position the computer as a device for only one purpose: either looking at incoming email messages, viewing pre-loaded photos, or receiving Skype calls.
  3. It’s better to give than receive – once you’ve introduced email for example, continue to engage your loved one by sending messages without the expectation of any response. Just continue to provide consistent and interesting content (e.g. pictures of the grandkids) and you will be successful.

seniors+tech

Source: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American
Life Project. Generations and their gadgets. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research
Center; 2011.

If you’re still unsure or want to make things even easier, we developed Claris Companion to address the specific needs of older seniors and make it far easier to connect with family and friends. Our approach ties simplicity with technology – for example, on the Claris Companion, buttons say what they do (a novel idea, I know) while messages, photos, reminders and more are pushed to the device and appear full screen, in large text, with no need to launch applications, or enter passwords. So if you’re looking to improve the chances of successful adoption and want to reduce the stress introducing something new, visit us at www.clariscompanion.com

Paul Sharman, Manager
Claris Companion
P: 1-866-284-4939
E: support@clariscompanion.com

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