Please help me help my grandmother with her computer.
March 3, 2011 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions on how to deal with my Grandmother and her computer. She is constantly clicking things she shouldn't.

My grandmother lives five hours away from me and doesn't have anyone to help her with her computer, so when I see her I do regular maintenance stuff and help her.

She is constantly clicking things and causing programs not to work or changing settings and then not knowing what she did. She's managed to screw up outlook, word, and also just general windows settings. So, my uncle and I are brainstorming, trying to figure out the best way to handle it since none of us our close to her.

We're either thinking of using a program that uses remote access (I reviewed the threads on this topic) or doing a program like Drive Vaccine that resets the computer every time it restarts. Would appreciate thoughts on the pros and cons or any other ideas.
posted by hazyspring to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If she has broadband, I'd recommend Skype and desktop sharing. You can set it to turn on when she turns on her computer and you can share desktops and talk at the same time. I've used a bunch of other programs to do similar things with my parents and others and Skype seems to be the easiest provided she has a microphone and speakers. All she'd need to do is call you via Skype or have you call her.

And you didn't ask, but I'd question the usefulness of her even using outlook to begin with compared to a simpler webmail program. You can have her run programs as a user, not an admin and that will cut down on stuff a little bit. Gave a frank talk with her about what she'd like to do with the computer and try to lock it down a little bit so that she can mostly do those things with a minimum of fuss. I spend a lot of time working with older folks and new-to-them technology, feel free to let me know if you have more questions.

Something like Drive Vaccine is likely to work but it will also have a bunch of other negatives that might make it more anoying than the current situation. I'd go that route with caution.
posted by jessamyn at 7:09 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I agree, outlook is a HUGE problem. My uncle set it up, and I've been trying to get her to switch to gmail ever since.

She does have broadband. Can you tell me a few of the negatives of Drive Vaccine?
posted by hazyspring at 7:11 PM on March 3, 2011

Honestly, do you have the option of just getting her an apple computer? It's really pretty difficult to mess anything up.

Short of that, change the user structure to take away her ability to change things (i.e. you are the admin).
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:12 PM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Making a drastic change for her like switching to a mac is not an option. She flips out when icons on the desktop are moved around.
posted by hazyspring at 7:15 PM on March 3, 2011

Well I'm familiar with Deep Freeze in public library settings, so I'm not sure if this stuff would apply, but the larger issues would be

- inability to save files like documents
- inability to customize settings
- inability to install plugins and whatnot to firefox
- inability to save cookies with login information meaning she'd have to log in to everything on the web over and over instead of having the browser save her information

I'm not sure if there's some sort of a simple-desktop app or something of the sort for windows, sort of a launcher like the Dock on the mac that might allow her to start and run programs but not get into the guts of the thing.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get her set up with Gmail and Google docs. She probably doesn't need Word, and she definitely doesn't need Outlook. Docs also has an endless undo that can clear up any mistakes. My wife's mom doesn't really get the difference between "the computer" and "the internet," but she manages to get around just fine when it's all in one window.
posted by Gilbert at 7:17 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: Getting the free version of Log Me In saved my relationship with my mom. She used to drive me nuts with her computer issues and my frustration level often led me to being not so nice (regretfully). It is a lifesaver to be able to remotely fix her issues.
posted by cecic at 7:19 PM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Hmm. Easiest answer - get her an iPad and keyboard dock. Easy answer - get her an iMac. The Mac tends to be more forgiving of casual experimentation - it's Human Interface guidelines are based around progressive disclosure, which rewards exploration without punishing. Plus, you can set her up with her own account that you can restore remotely using Apple Remote Desktop.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:51 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have this problem and what we did was give the non computer literate members of the family an account that has no controls basically, settings cant be changed and security is high also those people can't install any programs. You would have to set up remote access in your case since you are far away.
posted by boobjob at 8:02 PM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: The setup I did for my friend's father was like this:

1. Used a desktop enhancing tool such as Rainmeter+Enigma to remove all desktop icons and replaced the taskbar

2. Added desktop icons with task related names such as Emails (opens Gmail), Files (opens Google Docs), Internet (general items). All these are web based using Firefox. "Talk" opens Skype. You get the point!

3. Installed MS Security Essentials, CCleaner for the maintenance tasks.

4. Use any free remote maintenance tools to perform backups, support etc.

The incidents of "mis-clicking" were minimized considerably. There are some good articles on lifehacker, but I am not able to find them right now. I will post them once I find them
posted by theobserver at 8:56 PM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

if you can afford to get her an ipad, just get her an ipad. I was kind of skeptical about them, but I bought one for my mom after her shoulder surgery because her laptop was too unwieldy for her, and she hasn't touched her laptop in months, and rarely puts the ipad down, and had no problem figuring out how to download and install apps, and games without any help from me. I wouldn't even know how it would be possible for her to break it, to be honest.
posted by empath at 9:38 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm thinking about a combo of the following:

1. Log Me In
2. Switch her to gmail
3. Ipad

posted by hazyspring at 9:43 PM on March 3, 2011

Just skip to the iPad. Shoot, the first gen models are only $350 refurbed right now (unless she needs the camera in the second gen for Skype). That's probably easiest solution for everybody; there's a keyboard dock if she does a lot of word processing.
posted by 6550 at 11:38 PM on March 3, 2011

Have you asked your grandmother why she is clicking on things? Doing this will help to understand what she is trying to do. It's also possible she isn't thinking about it, or that the mouse is too sensitive for her. Ask her.
posted by devnull at 2:21 AM on March 4, 2011

I use deep freeze, and there's an add on program that will let you choose directories that /can/ be changed; for my son, I set it so that he can save bookmarks and a few other things, but the (several) times he's clicked on those "you need this antivirus!" that's really malware, we've just had to reboot; it's been really wonderful. I have antivirus on the pc even though it feels like overkill; about every week or so I have to "unfreeze" and let it check for windows and anti-virus updates, but that's not urgent.
posted by lemniskate at 5:08 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also 'nthing an ipad as most of the settings for apps will be tucked away under the Settings panel which you can easily hide. I've noticed however the older generations with dry hands have a hard time getting touchscreens like this to react. So I would also recommend a nice stylus to go with the ipad, attached with a string.
posted by samsara at 5:29 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

hazyspring, couple of things I forgot to mention are

1. Install LastPass and key in all the usernames and passwords for the various things she will be using. You can set it to auto-login, to make it simpler.

Please remember to export the LastPass password file and keep a copy with you, just in case you need to reinstall something.

2. Get a free dropbox account and ask her to use the dropbox folder to store her documents (local ones, if she uses them). This way, you have a simple backup option too

Of course, if you go the IPad route, do tell us how you configured it :)
posted by theobserver at 7:08 AM on March 4, 2011

Marginally related, but I used to have trouble with my dad deleting files he didn't understand the use for off of his PC, eventually causing it to not work SEVERAL times (gah), which made me have to fix it each time.

I switched him to a Mac when he even showed a teensy bit of interest in getting a new computer and he hasn't been able to mess it up since (and it's been a few years now) and he didn't have any trouble with the learning curve. An iPad sounds like it will help.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:23 AM on March 4, 2011

I work with people like your grandmother for a living. Here are my reccomendations:
-The iPad works BEAUTIFULY for most older people having the issues you describe, but there are some people who just don't get it. I would strongly reccomend having her try one out first. Maybe even take advantage of the 2-week return policy at the Apple Store in order to let her have a test drive. If it works for her, great.
-If she doesn't get the iPad pretty much right away, go back to the computer/remote access option. The only problem with the iPad is that if she DOES get in to some kind of issue there is no way for you to fix it remotely.
Good luck!
posted by raygan at 8:34 AM on March 4, 2011

I think you can also lock the desktop, too, so the icons stay where they are and don't move around.
posted by vickyverky at 10:40 AM on March 4, 2011

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