Finding Balance


Family caregiver helping elderly parent with technology“73% of adults over age 65 say they usually need someone else to set up or show them how to use a new electronic device.”

(Pew Research)

For weeks, my mother insisted that her mobile phone was broken. She also made sure to note how in her daythe era of landlines and touch-tone phonesservice was consistent even in stormy weather and all anyone needed was a dial tone to make a call. I brushed it off as a “user error” situation because I took my mother’s tech savviness for granted. Mom’s “in my day” statements weren’t as much complaints about the current state of technology as they were a reminder that I needed to consider modern technology from her perspective. Unlike Generations X, Y, and Z, my mother’s generation had not been required to adopt technology for success in school, career, or simply navigating the world. Those who retired from the workforce before computers became essential are often even less knowledgeable about modern technology.  

As I’ve spent more time assisting my mother and helping older adults with technology in general, seeing tech from their viewpoint has helped me to be more patient and gracious as I bring them up to speed. Here’s a few other points I’ve learned about technology for seniors along the way.

Help with understanding tech terminology

Eager to resolve Mom’s telecommunication woes, I tried explaining to her that her cellular service was likely unstable in certain areas within her assisted living community.

“It’s not your mobile device,” I said. “It’s your carrier.” But she had no idea what I was talking about because she did not know the difference between a “mobile device” and “cellular service carrier.”  I needed to offer a solution she understood. I became more successful in helping my mother gain clarity on her tech issue by being mindful that her generation lacked the digital literacy of younger generations. 

For example, the concept of “cloud technology” is widely understood in my career industry but is a wildly abstract notion for someone born in the 1930s. Even the simplest definition of that, “an on-demand availability of computer system resources,” is hard to grasp. I found it helpful to increase her understanding of basic technological concepts by explaining those ideas in simple layman’s terms. In this case, I explained that cloud technology is just “a new and fancier filing cabinet for the information and tools that make our computers work.”

Another source of frustration was my inability to understand the technical issue Mom had because she often used technological terms incorrectly. Her “broken mobile phone” conjured images of waterlogged phones with pulverized screens. Once I began to ask more questions about what she was experiencing, I was able to accurately troubleshoot the issue.

To avoid these types of miscommunication mishaps, it’s helpful to provide your family member with a 101-level tech education including commonly used technical terms and their definitions. Doing so will aid your loved one in becoming less intimidated by their gadgets and more comfortable with using the benefits their various devices provide. More importantly, if they do encounter an issue with their equipment, they’ll be able to explain whatever problem they’re experiencing with clarity and confidence. 

Make using technology as easy as possible

Though getting over a steep learning curve with seniors and technology has its challenges, there are still an abundance of devices and apps that truly make life and caregiving easier. To get the most out of technology, there are several simple things you can do to minimize complexity for your loved one.

I’ve learned that the shock of adding a new device is lessened when all of our technology uses the same operating system. For instance, if you have an Android phone and are not familiar with Apple systems, then it’s a good idea to purchase a similar phone for your senior relative. This will make it easier for you to describe processes and features. I also found that teaching my mother how to do something in one way is best. Though a function may have various methods for working, sharing all of those options at once can be confusing for tech newbies in their 80s. 

Here are other steps I’ve taken to help my mother become more tech-savvy:

Facilitate bypassing the login process. Depending on the system you’re using, you can make app access easier for your parent by allowing the username and password prompt to be bypassed upon startup. 

Pre-load phone contacts. Keep communications uninterrupted with a new phone by entering contact information for the people and places your relatives remain in touch with. Be sure to add pictures of their faces or business logo on the home screen to make their mobile phone book even easier to use.

Install games. Download their favorite games onto their computers or mobile devices and organize the icons by category so your loved one can locate their go-to pastimes with ease. 

Bookmark websites. Google searches can often produce complicated results. It’s useful to bookmark commonly visited websites and create shortcuts for direct access to avoid landing on the wrong pages. 

Setup streaming services. I’ve set up my mother’s tablet to deliver one-click access to the church services she likes to stream on Sunday mornings. Occasionally, URLs have changed and I’ve had to re-establish connections, but these handy shortcuts typically work without issue. On streaming services like Netflix, Peacock, and Sling, you can “Favorite” It’s also easy to “Favorite” your loved one’s most-watched programs and movies to place their viewing preferences at their fingertips.

Create shortcuts for web conferencing and video calls. During the early days of COVID19, many of Mom’s doctor visits were telemed appointments. When I wasn’t able to attend with her,  a Zoom shortcut on her tablet’s home page allowed her to go directly to her doctor’s room without difficulty. I also was able to join remotely from my own location. Additionally, video calls between us make for better conversation and more comfort in knowing how my mother is faring. To simplify her ability to reach me via video chat, I’ve added a shortcut to her phone’s home screen. 

Manage app notifications. Constant app notifications can be as annoying as they are unnecessary as they are designed to get you to increase app usage and ultimately spend money. To avoid any accidental clicks that can lead to erroneous charges, you can disable or turn off pesky notifications. 

Schedule calendar reminders. Making entries for appointments, events, and medication can facilitate more independence with an aging parent. If your parent likes to use technologyand still has the ability to do soyou can help manage your parent’s day by programming reminders and tasks into their phone or tablet. You can even make entries on their phone from anywhere by logging into the calendar app using their username and password. For tips on how to better manage your schedule as a family caregiver, check out this article on time management.

Don’t forget virus and spam protection. Because there are plenty of scammers who use incredibly convincing tactics to specifically target the elderly, it’s important to install virus protection. Whenever I visit my mother, I scan her call, text message and email history to block spammers and telemarketers as well. 

Take advantage of online accounts 

In our self-service era with online accounts for just about everything, I’ve found many online portals such as those for my mother’s doctors and prescriptions to be a lifesaver. I love that I can ask questions about new symptoms, share daily blood glucose and blood pressure readings, and order refills on the go whenever I have a break in my day. Additionally, I am able to pay bills, make transactions, and handle customer service issues on my mother’s behalf with her banking, insurance, and other essential services.

Still, these online portals can be as much a blessing as they are a curse. It infuriates me that so many services have not taken the elderly into account as they’ve transitioned their various processes to digital formats. The assumption is that all users are tech-savvy and that’s certainly not the case with senior users.  Many of these various systems allow me to have access as a secondary or joint member on Mom’s account, while others do not. It’s a good practice to get authorized access established sooner than later to help your senior relative with tech issues and avoid running into any difficulty you may encounter as an unauthorized user. 

I hope these tips help make your life easier and enable your family member to have better experiences with technology. If you have any other tech experiences, advice and apps for seniors you’ve found to be useful, please feel free to share them here

Enjoy the journey.