Computers and Senior Citizens: What They Should Know

by TheWritingCowboy

Computers for seniors. Here's what they need to know before buying.

I teach beginning computer skills at a local senior citizens center and one question I’m sure to get in every class I teach is, “What kind of computer should I get.” For younger generations that question is easy to answer and there are lots of options. But, for senior citizens – generations of people for whom the computer and tech revolution left them in the dust – its often mind boggling.

Computers and Senior Citizens: What They Should Know

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Senior citizens are an engaging group of people. They are eager to learn new things and to engage in activities that belie their age (former President George H.W. Bush parachuting out of planes at age 80, for example). But, learning computer skills while doable sometimes takes a little more time than their children or grandchildren care to spend with them. For the youngsters all this is so obvious – you just click here, scroll there, swipe your finger around there and oila, it’s done. For those who grew up using typewriters, carbon paper and white out computers can be daunting.

That’s where I come in. I teach them basics, advise them not to be intimidated by what others say that unintentionally make them feel badly, and try to give them step by step advise on how to get their skill sets up and running.

Know What You Want To Do

When I’m asked about what computer these senior newbies should purchase, my answer is invariable the same. What do you want to do with a computer? The puzzled look I receive in return is the same every single time. Many of my students have been advised by family or friends to get the latest computer with all the bells and whistles for their first tech purchase. They’ve been told to get faster speeds, more memory/capacity, larger and bigger and better. Get a laptop, netbook, touch pad, desktop, smartphone and everything else. Get this operating system or that one. But, no one asks them the most important question. What is it you are going to be doing with your computer when you get it? For many if not most seniors, I find, all they want to do is surf the World Wide Web and learn how to use email. For that, I tell them, you need the least expensive computer you can find. Don’t be swayed by what a salesman attempts to sell you, nor the advise of more computer-literate friends and family. As long as you have an Internet Service Provider (ISP – like a cable or satellite or phone company), you’ll be on the net and emailing to your hearts content in no time (maybe with a little help from people like me. By the way, I teach as a volunteer). If the computer is a fairly well known brand, you’ll be just fine.

Hand-Eye Coordination Is Key

Young people, it seems, are born with the skills necessary to function in a computer-centric world. Growing up with video games they know how to handle computers in no time flat. For the older generation their skills aren’t nearly as polished.

In my classes I’ve noticed that the mere placing of hands on a computer keyboard, or operating a mouse or touch-pad is difficult. The reason is they have never had to fine-tune their motor skills or exercised the hand-eye coordination necessary with computer work. This takes time and patience. It’s also a factor in determining the type of computer to buy.

For seniors that are most familiar with the use of a typewriter keyboard perhaps a desktop or laptop may be best because they usually come with a keyboard. While a keyboard can be attached to almost any device, they desktop computer or laptop usually have bigger screens as well. Touch screens, whether on a smartphone or tablets such as an iPad, often take some getting used to.

The computer mouse also presents difficulty for many seniors. It’s quite a foreign object for them. I’ve seen many seniors in my classes grab the mouse as if it were a life preserver. Figuring out how their tapping on a mouse relates to what happens on a screen can be a painstaking process.

So, seniors – hopefully with the help of a family member or friend – should take their time before buying a particular type of computer. Go to your nearby electronics store – before you have any intention of buying anything – and just test out all the different kinds of computers. See which feels more comfortable. Ask lots of questions. Don’t be rushed, take your time. It will be time well spent. It’s an awful feeling to get a computer, take it home only to find it’s a constant battle to get comfortable using it and it becomes an unused hunk of metal and plastic.

Take A Class

Ultimately, I tell my classes, getting better and comfortable using a computer is like answering the question, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall.” The answer: practice, practice, practice.

Even for fairly simple needs like surfing the net – sooner or later you’ll run into a problem or glitch that will confound you. Many students come to my class because their computer is gathering dust. They don’t use it because they ran into a problem and didn’t know who to ask for help.

There are many places to get help. The store where you bought the computer may have techs that can help (sometimes for a small fee). But, for learning more of the ins and outs of computers there are lots of classes available. Your local community colleges’ community service program usually has low-cost beginners classes, as does many senior citizens centers like the one where I teach. There are also classes offered at many public libraries and through other community groups.

There’s nothing about computers that seniors can’t learn. It may take a little time but with perseverance you can be zooming along the information super highway just like everyone else.


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Updated: 07/31/2014, TheWritingCowboy
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