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Quick start guide to the internet for the elderly

21st November 2014

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

Discover how the elderly can get online with this guide to simple software and adapted technology.

A campaign launched by the Friends of the Elderly charity warned that the internet could isolate more than 700,000 people over the age of 60 by 2030, as more shops and services shift their focus to online. Although some banks are responding to the ageing generation, there’s more that can be done, so we’ve created a quick start guide to the internet for the elderly, which includes simplified processes, easy-to-use software, and adapted technology.

Before attempting to use the internet, it helps to have a basic understanding of the functions of the technology that will be used. This is something the younger generation take for granted, but as technology has not been part of the older community’s background, elderly people can often struggle with getting online.

Ask for help

There are a number of groups and charities that exist to help educate the elderly to use computers. Barclay’s has more than 7,000 Digital Eagles, who are able to ‘give practical advice without any confusing jargon’ and hold tea & teach sessions that anyone can attend.

Similarly, the BT Digital Champions scheme is encouraging school age children to share their digital knowledge with the older community. However, if these services are inaccessible, it is more than likely that a relative or neighbour would be happy to help teach the fundamentals.

Password security

One of the most important things to ensure when using the internet is keeping passwords safe. For older people it can sometimes be more difficult to remember passwords, especially as it is advised to have a different password for each website that you use. However, security software LastPass can help to remember passwords for you, while keeping them secure and safe.

Once you sign up for a LastPass account, you only have to remember your master password and LastPass remembers the rest for you. This means you'll never have to worry about forgetting a password - even if you don't go back to a site for a year or more!

Passwords and poor password practices are a significant risk to privacy for everyone. Having a different password for each online account, and not reusing any password for more than one online account, helps keep you more secure. LastPass helps with this too by creating new passwords for you when you're signing up for new accounts or updating the password for existing accounts.”

     - LastPass

Video chat

Some older people may prefer to use video call software such as Skype. This means that you can see those that you are communicating with, and is a more interactive alternative to picking up the phone, all while still in the comfort of your adjustable rise and recline chair. Software can be downloaded from the internet, completely free of charge, and is relatively simple to use once installed.

Also, those in retirement or care homes may have access to SimplyUnite’s Gem version 3.5, which incorporates the Skype software into an interface that’s even easier to use. SimplyUnite has recently reported that a 104-year-old woman was able to video call her nephew in Australia, which is sure to be an inspiration to many.

Use a touch screen device

Previous research has shown that the elderly tend to get on better with a tablet, as touch screens are more intuitive than a mouse. In order to provide older people with an easier to use device, Age UK and leading tablet manufacturer Samsung have teamed up with a British company called Breezie, who have designed a tablet with a simple interface that can be set up and personalised to the user. One of the unique selling points of a Breezie is that the company will offer step-by-step advice over the phone when first setting up the device.

“For people wanting to get online for the first time, it's important to find activities that are relevant to your interests and will keep you excited about learning more about the Internet. This can include using Skype to video chat with friends and family members around the world, using Kindle to read your favourite books or using iPlayer to catch-up on TV shows.

Let your imagination roam free when it comes to thinking of ideas about what you'd like to gain from using the Internet. The apps and websites available to you can help you out with the smallest of tasks, or can relate to the most niche of your interests and hobbies. If you search, you'll probably find hundreds of things that will make your life easier or keep you entertained.

Start talking to those around you about what you've achieved online so far, and the new things you've discovered. Lots of the most interesting things on the Internet are shared by word-of-mouth, and you might find out about an app, game or article someone else has read by starting a conversation.

Don't be scared to ask for help. Younger friends and relatives will be glad that you're taking the time to learn digital skills, and they'll be happy to share their knowledge with you. Think of it as a thank you for all of the things you've shared with them over the years!”

     - Breezie

Those with a touch screen device such as a smart phone will be able to benefit from a number of applications such as the Care UK Pocket Physio app. This can be used to help people recover from orthopaedic surgery, with added features such as follow up appointment reminders.

“Pocket Physio is an easy-to-use guide for physiotherapy exercises that was created to help people manage their recovery from orthopaedic surgery more effectively. We updated the app in April 2014 to include even more exercises and many of the NHS patients we treat tell us they find the videos far more useful than pictorial explanations. Each video is of a real person demonstrating the exercises and additional written instructions provide all the information people need to ensure they’re performing the exercises correctly. It’s just like having an expert physiotherapist in the room with you.

“A really useful feature of Pocket Physio is the calendar that reminds people of their post-operative appointments and even notifies them when to complete their exercises – meaning no more missed appointments and a better chance of fully completing a rehabilitation programme. There are also tips for walking with a frame or crutches, showering and dressing after an operation, managing pain and improving circulation.”

     -  Belinda Moore, group communication and marketing director at Care UK

Read forums

Those with a basic understanding of the internet who have an IT-related question or problem may be able to find suitable help on a number of forums or help websites dedicated to the elderly. These include AARP’s Technology Education Center or BBC’s Webwise, and are great portals for technology advice. Google also provides its own low-vision friendly search engine, good50, which has larger text and makes use of colour to help those struggling with sight problems.

Image Credit: KimSanDiego, Jody Morris, LastPass, Joe Shlabotnik, Cheon Fong Liew (Flickr.com), Care UK

This content was written by Emily Bray. Please feel free to visit my Google + profile to read more stories.