How to Help Your Parent with Technology

Technology is changing our everyday world. We can now use our phones and computers to record movies and pictures, get step-by-step instructions while driving, research family history, order fast food, redeem coupons and more. We can shop, watch movies and even have a face-to-face conversation with someone around the world – all without ever leaving the comfort of your home.

The internet and other technologies are increasingly important tools in everyday life. Institutions are now moving towards online portals where customers are doing their banking, managing their medical care, filling their prescriptions and updating their records. Many stores and organizations are dropping their old “brick and mortar” presence to meet the increasing demand for access to goods and services online. This means that, like younger people, older adults who want to interact with the world must keep up with technology.

Staying up on all the latest technology is challenging, though, even for young people who have grown up in the digital age. Smart people in Silicon Valley and elsewhere come up with mindboggling new technologies nearly every day, and the number of breakthrough gadgets grows at an exponential rate. There are now computers, programs, websites and apps that do everything from scheduling a ride to the doctor to starting the dishwasher.

While technology can make your parent’s life easier, many older adults have trouble adapting to new technologies. In fact, one-third of people over the age of 65 responding to a Pew Research Center poll said that they were not confident in their ability to use electronic devices well enough to do online activities. Only 18% said that they felt comfortable learning a new device, such as a tablet or phone, on their own; 77% said they would need someone to guide them through the process. Among those older adults in the Pew survey who go online but do not use Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites, 56% said that they would need help if they wanted to use those sites to connect with family or friends.

Once older adults join the online world, though, technology becomes an integral part of their lives. Among older adults that use the internet, 71% go online every day or almost every day and another 11% go online three to five times each week.

Ways You Can Help Your Parent Use Technology

Listen to what your parent finds interesting and helpful, and focus on those technologies

It is often easier to learn about the things that interest us or that might improve our lives. Ask your parent what he or she would like to do with technology, and then find programs, apps and machines that help your parent do that.

Create a quiet, accepting environment for learning

Turn off televisions and other distractions. A well-lit, quiet environment is especially important if your parent has any vision or hearing problems. Choose a comfortable location that is free from excess noise and human activity. Avoid helping your parent in an environment where he or she might feel embarrassed about the learning process.

Find out what your parent already knows

You and your parent might be surprised to find out how much he or she already knows about technology. Ask if your parent has any social media accounts, for example, and if he or she has dabbled in online genealogy websites, like Ancestry.

Stick with a device your parent feels comfortable using

If your parent prefers a tablet or e-reader over a smart phone, he or she is not alone – 27% of the older adults responding to the Pew survey said that they owned a tablet or e-reader, such as a Kindle, compared with only 18% who own a smart phone.

Download websites, programs and apps that appeal to or benefit your parent in some special way

Does your parent have diabetes? There are a number of smart phone apps to help your mother or father keep track of blood sugar levels, sugar intake, medication doses, exercises and more. Does your parent ever forget where he or she parked the car? (Who hasn’t!?) Anchor Pointer Compass GPS is an app featuring an arrow that points to the car and a distance meter that says how far away the car is parked. Lumosity offers games that help older adults stay mentally active, Pandora lets your parent enjoy his or her favorite music and the Weather Channel updates your mother or father on weather conditions.

Medisafe is a mobile phone app that sends a reminder when it is time to take medicine. Medicare’s Blue Button makes it easy for your parent to download his or her health information to a file. Your parent can even print out or email the information, which could make managing records easier when going to specialists, switching doctors and updating doctors about changes in your parent’s medical condition.

Download and install these programs and apps, and bookmark interesting websites prior to helping your parents use the new technologies. The downloading and installation process can seem daunting to older adults and tech newbies, so get as much of the technical work done as possible ahead of time.

Introduce Your Parent to Facebook

Facebook started out as a program for college kids, but older adults are now the fastest growing demographic on the social media platform, according to a 2016 study by Penn State researchers. The scientists performed a survey of 352 adults ranging in age from 60 to 86. The researchers found that 35% of older adults belonged to a social network, such as Facebook or LinkedIn. These older users checked Facebook an average of 2.46 times a day and they remained on the site for just over 35 minutes.

Like their younger counterparts, older Facebook users want to stay connected to family and keep in touch with old friends. They also want to find and communicate with like-minded people.

Once an older person gets the hang of Facebook, they become very curious about what other people are doing. Older adults enjoy the same features of Facebook as their younger counterparts, so be sure to show your parent how to post to somebody’s wall and to use the chat function.

Start with the basics

Give your parent a solid foundation on which to build his or her technical skills. Teach your parent how to use a keyboard, manage a mouse and perform basic functions, such as copy, paste, save and open. Show your mother or father how to swipe on a smartphone screen and teach them how to type on the phone’s keyboard – you might want to purchase a wide-grip stylus that makes it easier to type on touch screen tablets.

Use familiar examples

Technology can seem foreign to older adults, so try to create analogies so that the concepts seem more familiar. We no longer keep information in a filing cabinet, for example – we upload it to “the cloud” or to local storage on a computer – but the concept of files and storage are still somewhat the same.

Try to use proper terminology whenever possible

Use the correct terminology whenever possible. Using the correct terms right off the bat will help your parent continue learning later down the road.

Stay away from excessive use of confusing jargon, though, and don’t fight it if your parent stubbornly uses the wrong term for certain things. It’s okay if your mother or father refer to the hashtag as a pound sign or call it “The Facebooks” as long as they understand the basic concepts of the technology.

Be patient

Plan to spend more time helping your parent navigate any technology than you might spend helping a younger person who has grown up in the digital age. People who have grown up with computers and smart phones already know the jargon and understand the basic concepts of the technology, so it is relatively easy to expand upon what they already know. Since older adults did not grow up using these technologies, they may struggle with the basics, such as double-clicking a mouse button or “swiping” through screens on a phone.

Recognize physical challenges that make using technology more difficult

In the Pew survey, 28% of respondents said they had health problems, disabilities or handicaps that interfere with their ability to participate fully in work, housekeeping chores or other activities. The seniors that do report disabilities say they are less likely to use smart phones or tablet computers than are their counterparts without such disabilities.

Show your parent how using technology can help him or her deal with these physical challenges. Life Alert and other emergency response services summon assistance in emergencies, a technology that helps older adults stay at home longer. The ability to view and share video messages can keep your parent in touch with friends, family members and even doctors – all without ever leaving home.

Reassure your parent that other older adults with disabilities are already using technology. Pew Research Center says that disabled adults are just as likely as are those without disabilities to order groceries online or to use the internet to hire someone to run an errand or perform a task. About seven percent of older adults with a disability have used a ride-hailing app, such as Uber, compared with 18% of adults without a disability.

Emphasize the importance of privacy

Security and privacy are important in the everyday world, and they are of special importance online. Let your parent know that whatever he or she posts will live on the internet forever. Remind your mother or father to share information only with people they know and trust, and to ignore any messages or communications that require him or her to respond urgently to a crisis. A good rule of thumb is “when it doubt, throw it out.”

Help your parent develop a secure password system

Passwords help prevent hackers and other bad people from gaining access to certain websites and programs, such as the bank website. Only people who know the password can gain access to the information. Hackers work very hard to guess passwords, so every computer user should choose passwords that are difficult to guess.

In a perfect world, all passwords are a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and characters. Computer and smartphone users would also change their passwords at least one a year.

The downside to complicated passwords is that the jumble of characters may make it tough for your parent to remember. One possible solution is to use a combination of partial names and dates that would seem nonsensical to anyone reading it. Your parent might combine Fluffy the Cat’s name in between the digits of the year to create 20Flu19, for example.

Have your parent use a different password for every website and application that they use. This is not as hard as it sounds – he or she can simply add the letters of the website or institution to the end of the password. Just add “fa” to their Facebook password, for example, or “ba” to their bank password. Your parent’s password to Facebook might become 20Flu19fa.

To prevent confusion, keep a written log of current passwords, just in case your parent forgets his or her login information.

Sign your parent up for classes

Introduce your parent to community centers, libraries and other resources for further information and education on technology. Look for programs and classes that cater to older adults, as they already have the know-how and resources to keep your parent on the right track. While structured classes can provide more information in a short time, even unstructured technology centers can provide opportunities for learning and access to additional help over time.

While helping your parent with technology presents some challenges, it is ultimately rewarding. When used correctly, technology can help your parent live more independently, safely and enjoyably.

Not only is helping your parent with technology good for them in their everyday lives, but it will also help you become closer to them, even if you live far apart. At Tudor Heights, we want to take the worry out of everyday living and make sure you and your parent have all the information and care you need to live your best lives. If you have any questions about the technology and services available at our assisted living and memory care community in Baltimore, MD, please contact our friendly and knowledgeable team today.

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