By far the biggest problem for older people getting to grips with a computer is lack of confidence. Most older people encountering computers for the first time believe that it will all be far too difficult for them to make sense of at their age. One feature of computer applications which older people often find difficult to master is the large number of details that must be remembered in order to accomplish tasks. Each detail is small in itself, but all must be learned in order to make use of the software. Once such steps are explained to them, and their confidence established, however, they can then use strategies to master the software, such as having reminder sheets by the keyboard, or making good use of online help facilities.
Another difficulty is knowing how to move confidently from switching the computer on to making use of the wanted application. Again, instilling confidence is an important factor here, as is a chance to repeat the process of navigating from switching on through to launching the desired applications confidently. A physical skill that many older people find very difficult at first is using the computer mouse. Many report that this problem alone has meant they have abandoned attempts to take classes in introductory computing, since they are embarrassed at their slowness in acquiring this minor but important physical skill. A few hours practice with the mouse usually solves this problem, but this must be done before any real applications involving using the mouse are attempted, or confidence will suffer
Mastering the computer with other older people can help, as it avoids the embarrassment the learner might feel with a younger person who knows all about the technology. Also, having an older person as a teacher provides a constant role model and proof that the technology can, in fact, be mastered by someone who is no longer young
Check your local education authority, or other local educational of groups, many of whom will run very useful beginners courses on computing. There are a number of helpful available, some with a DVD. If the mouse is a real problem, there are touch screen computers available,which can take away the fear of using the computer.
Fortunately, for most older people, there are family members and friends who will help them learn to use a computer. If they don’t have that kind of help close by, there are classes they can take in order to get comfortable with things like the Internet and email. Even if they don’t type very fast, or are a little bit unsure of what they’re doing, they can still connect with their loved ones and with people all over the world. Increasingly, older people have been joining social networking sites too, just so they can reach out to more people and make new friends.
The internet can be a source of emotional therapy for older people who might be feeling a little lost. They can keep in touch with family and friends via email and see them on screen when calling via Skype. Socialising on the internet can at least help keep their mind sharp and a sense of belonging to the world. Older people who don’t have many family members, or who aren’t particularly close to anyone, can find ways to get and stay in touch with people they’ve known for years and chat to people they’ve just met through social networking sites.
If an older person is immobile, computers can give them access to a whole new world, where they can shop and find all sorts of information. The computer can promote life-long learning, where older people can research areas of interest, or take on-line courses, as well as helping to alleviate loneliness. It also gives older people a chance to share their wisdom – whether they participate in chat rooms, maintain a personal blog, or give children and grandchildren advice.
Those who might be currently living in a nursing home, or having hospital treatment, might be feeling a little less independent, or be a little depressed at their state of life. The internet can provide them with information regarding their specific ailment, chat to patients going through the same thing and even suggest an alternative treatment of which they might be unaware, although anything they find needs to be double-checked for authenticity and credibility when it comes to medical matters.