Most people in their 70s, 80s or 90s weren’t eager to embrace the internet 10 years ago, but senior internet use has since risen steadily, up from 14% in 2000 to 67% among adults 65 and older, according to Pew Research Center. Around 40% of people over 65 own smartphones too, a figure that’s doubled since 2013.
If your loved one still communicates through a landline or snail mail, here are some tips on how to nudge them online and help them use technology.
Maryann Karinch’s 94-year-old mother, Ann, always keeps her trusty flip phone by her side, just as she’s done for the past 12 years. Last year, though, Karinch’s iPad tablet piqued Ann’s curiosity when she showed her mother how to shop online for items that she couldn’t locate in her small Pennsylvania town.
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“I showed her how she can order something and two days later, it just shows up,” says Karinch. Now Ann is an iPad whiz, Googling historical facts and photos from around the globe, even early photos of her hometown. “It’s opened up a whole new world for her,” says Karinch.
Plenty of seniors book one-on-one appointments for device and internet training at St. Mary’s County Library, says Sara Stephenson, the library system’s virtual services coordinator in Leonardtown, Maryland. The impetus for technological training is often the holiday gift of a tablet, says Stephenson.
“Adult children give the parent a tablet and say, ‘We’ll send photos of the kids on this,’” says Stephenson. “People don’t send snail mail anymore. To stay connected, people need things like Facebook and a Google account for Google photos.”
Even if a senior knows internet basics, that person may still need instruction on a new device. For example, when an older patron heard that she could use her St. Mary’s library card to download audiobooks, movies, music albums and television shows on Hoopla Digital but couldn’t figure out the process on her tablet, a librarian showed her the ropes.
“She was downloading books from then on,” says Stephenson.
If your loved one still communicates via a landline or snail mail, here are some tips for nudging them online:
Validate to your loved one that changing to the Cyber Era can be difficult, rather than “acting like it’s a piece of cake,” says cybercrime expert Alexis Moore, an attorney who teaches cybersecurity at senior centers. “Let them know it’s a new world online and one that still poses challenges for many of us, even the most tech savvy. Then show them the benefits,” says Moore.
“Encourage the person to connect with other seniors going online and to join clubs and groups that teach tech, including home tutors and senior classes,” says Moore.
Highlight the benefits of going online such as being able to reconnect with old family, friends and neighbors without leaving home. “For many, once you show them the nifty tools and ways to connect online, they get warmed up really quickly,” says Moore. Point out that doctors and hospitals often have online portals where patients can look up lab results and schedule appointments easily rather than waiting on the phone.
Show your mom how to look up her childhood home on Google Street View, or put your dad’s virtual toes in the sand with live webcams of his favorite beaches. Exploring fun aspects of the internet can spark an interest in learning to go online.
Research internet classes at community colleges, libraries and senior centers to demonstrate how easy it is to find in-person training on the internet and smartphones. Your community may even have teenage volunteer mentors through Cyber-Seniors, a nonprofit organization that pairs teens with seniors for individual internet training. Cyber-Seniors membership, free for seniors, also provides access to the organization’s online Senior Resource and Training Center.
Karinch’s mother is adept at online navigation, but she’s still warming up to the idea of e-mail and texting. Sorting through e-mail spam could be overwhelming, Karinch determined initially, and her mom, Ann, agreed. With Karinch’s help, Ann may take up texting soon, but only when she’s ready. “It really needs to be incremental, so she’s confident with it,” says Karinch.
Despite her mom’s incremental pace, Karinch delights in watching her access the internet. “She’s reading things she never would have read before and her curiosity is what keeps her so sharp,” says Karinch. “I’m not going to push texting, but that’s the next step. When she’s ready, I’ll be there to practice with her.”
How did you get your parent or senior loved one to use technology? We’d like to hear your stories and tips in the comments below.
Deb Hipp is a freelance writer in Kansas City, Missouri, who specializes in caregiving, aging and senior living.