Wintertime, for many seniors, means less activity. But when bad weather and low temperatures keep seniors indoors, the ability to use a computer can provide distraction and offer a vital link to the outside world.
Most of us are familiar with the basics of surfing the Internet on our home computers, laptops and smartphones by now. But there is a small segment of senior citizens out there that is still not as well-versed in the ins and outs of the digital world. For those folks, here are a few tips to bring you up to speed and give you the confidence to explore online.
There are web-based services dedicated to helping seniors overcome technology barriers.
One of these, SkillfullSenior, is particularly valuable to the new user. Graphic-based, easy to navigate and full of helpful prompts to help you orient, the site was designed to work with the way any senior, who did not have to use a computer in his or her professional career, might think.
Seniors learn through SkillfulSenior's interactive software programs. Voice and written directions guide users through the lessons.
Lessons focuses not on individual programs like Microsoft Word or Excel, but on the most basic skills a computer user would need to learn those programs: mouse use, touch typing, or directional arrow use, for example. As the site explains, "Learn to boil water, and you can cook a lot of things."
Start out by connecting with family members.
If you have heard about the pitfalls of Internet surfing— identity theft, computer viruses, and other scams— it may be best to start off connecting only with your family and close friends, via social media sites like Facebook or Pinterest, in order to get a feel for what you're doing.
Younger family members— grandchildren, in particular— are often invaluable for their ability to walk you through the basics, and a few training sessions are a great way to spend time together. In a few short hours, you could be up and running, sharing pictures and writing messages to people you haven't been in regular contact with.
Use a software application like Eldy to simplify your computer's functions and optimize them for your needs.
Many seniors feel intimidated by the sheer number of programs that come pre-loaded on most home computers nowadays. Eldy is an Italian-designed software package that was produced with these users in mind. Once Eldy is installed, it changes the graphic interface of the operating system such that it displays larger text and easier-to-decipher icons.
"Think of it as a blown-up mini-operating system that contains an email client, chat system, web browser and even access to a simplified version of Notepad, Eldy TV, and Skype," wrote MakeUseOf's Jessica Cam Wong.
Eldy can be used to set up a beginner e-mail account, through Eldy.org, or for more experienced users that understand the ins and outs of POP3 or IMAP e-mail languages, used to set up easier interface access to older e-mail accounts.
The software package includes a customized browser with simplified functions and large-font buttons, links out to Skype and Eldy's chatroom forum and a well-defined home screen with a limited access menu, to help overwhelmed seniors cut down on the number of confusing icons.
Even Googling is easier with a senior-oriented search engine.
The folks over at Google are also addressing seniors' unique Internet surfing needs with their Good50 search engine site.
Good50 has all the functionality of regular Google, but features larger font sizes to assist users with limited eyesight, a low-vision reverse background option and a simple, clean design. Search results are displayed in larger type, with wider margins and more separation to make legibility easier.
There are plenty of tools for getting more acclimated to the online universe.
With sites like Good50 and SkillfulSenior, the basics are covered. Once you get a bit more comfortable with conducting your online activities, try exploring Pinterest boards geared toward senior learning, use a search engine to find things to do, or sign up for computer classes at a local retirement center.
There's no reason that you need to be shut indoors and cut off from friends, family and the wider world this winter. Start learning how you can get online and enrich your golden years today!