Help me teach my mom how to use a computer.
June 9, 2005 7:49 PM   Subscribe

My 80 year old Mom would like to learn to use a laptop. She is homebound and so classes are out of the question, and I live on the other side of the country. Any suggestions for books, tutorial programs, etc? She is very very intimidated (and anxious by nature) so the more basic the better. She understands the concepts of what the internet is and what a web page is and what links are, it's the actual turning on booting up double clicking mechanics of use that's scaring her. Anyone have resources that worked with their parents? (Sorry if we've been through this, I can't find it if so).
posted by puddinghead to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are many community-based programs out there that aim to help seniors master basic computer skills. In order of preference, I'd try: local senior centers, adult education centers, libraries. At least one should be able to get her started. Once she's got the manual skills and computer fundamentals down, she can graduate to a general internet tutorial.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:13 PM on June 9, 2005

My mom did some volunteering at a senior center teaching just this sort of thing, so I second Nakedcodemonkey's suggestion. Also, one thing my mother had the seniors do was play solitaire on the computer, because it uses double-clicking so much. She found that it really helped them get used to the motion.
posted by Janta at 8:15 PM on June 9, 2005

And get her an Apple. No worry with antivirus software, antispyware software, security updates, patches, configuration issues...
posted by attercoppe at 8:50 PM on June 9, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you nakedcodemonkey and Janta, but like I said, she is unable to leave the house. And attercoppe, there's an extra family laptop that needs a good home that we'd like to use. I'm looking for a book, a program, something like that.
posted by puddinghead at 9:18 PM on June 9, 2005

Don't discount Senior Centers until you contact them -- they may have a home visit option, or provide suitable transport to their center once a week or so (depending on why she is housebound, of course, but our local center provides weekly transport to our wheelchair bound neighbor who uses Oxygyn). Many seniors are in her situation, and I'd be surprised if they didn't have some plan for this.
posted by anastasiav at 9:31 PM on June 9, 2005

Would you be willing to spend some time on the phone with her walking her through things? If you're sitting in front of a computer with a similar setup so you can follow along, you could go step-by-step through some basic tasks. It might take some patience, though you would have a better idea than a lot of people how to explain things to her.
posted by bendy at 9:36 PM on June 9, 2005

Yes on the Apple. Just got my mom a Mac Mini and a cheap flat screen; she is super hyped on it, loves it, and has taught herself as much as I could. Granted, she's only using iphoto, Word and Excel and the web browser and the mac mail client, but she LOVES all of it.
posted by luriete at 9:41 PM on June 9, 2005

This thread gives me an idea. There are lots of kids (well, not just kids...) that do stupid things when they are young and wind up having to do so many court mandated hours of community service. Wouldn't it be great if someone started a non-profit that could connect these kids with seniors (or anyone for that matter) that need computer help or training. Spending 50 hours on the phone would be an easy way to work off community service time and at the same time they would be providing something valuable.
posted by banished at 9:47 PM on June 9, 2005

I'm surprised there's not a step-by-step website for this. Here's a start.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:49 PM on June 9, 2005

I agree about contacting the local senior center. If they can't help they will at least be able to send you in the right direction, if you ask. And their volunteers may be very happy to help your mom out in her home. There are resources available (all sorts of stuff!) for home bound seniors - you just need to start making calls and find out what they are.

Another idea is to ask a child or grandchild of one of her friends or neighbors to help out. Any teenage girls around? For a few bucks (or even just because) I bet they'd be willing. Teenagers today really do a lot of volunteering and community work.

My final idea - contact her church if she has one. They should be more than willing and able to find another member who can assist your mom. I've seen church bulletin's that say stuff like, "Bob Jones needs help painting his fence this weekend." or "Mrs. Jones needs a ride to her cardiologist appointments every other Tuesday."

Good luck and three cheers to your brave mom!
posted by LadyBonita at 10:01 PM on June 9, 2005

Response by poster: I really appreciate the input, and do keep trying, but I also need to tell you that she doesn't let strangers in the house AND can't hear the phone well. Family only (yes, it's challenging. I'm hoping that once she gets going she might find an online community, as she is so isolated). So... it has to be a book with pictures or a program that she just has to pop in the drive and it walks her along. I might end up writing the book myself with screenshots and such. I haven't explored the Remote Assistance option, anyone had experience with that? (Bendy, you are probably right, but it will be awfully frustrating and I am, frankly, looking for an easier way).

Banished- it is a good idea. The local school district has paired up kids and seniors for one- to -one training, but it's not an option for my mother. (Thank you, too, Lady B!)

On preview- Weapons grade, that's GENIUS. The AARP. I'm a'headin' there right now. Excellent suggestion.
posted by puddinghead at 10:06 PM on June 9, 2005

I'm in a similar situation - my dad bought a mac and moved to hong kong. But i'm able to tutor his computer problems by talking with him over the phone (or sometimes iChat) and seeing and sharing his computer through VNC (which is built into OS X now). I just make sure he knows how to turn the VNC server off to block any unwanted incoming traffic....
posted by sammich at 10:06 PM on June 9, 2005

puddinghead - Can you get your mother on any kind of Instant Messaging? She could ask you questions, you could give advice - or comfort if necessary - and she would benefit from the hands-on experience that she would not get with phone calls.
posted by Cranberry at 12:08 AM on June 10, 2005

Ditto Mac. My Grandfather -- now nearly 93 -- got interested in computers when my Mum & Dad one about 5-6 years ago. He's gone from Performa to iMac to Mac Mini and loves them. Digital camera, printer, scanning, internet & PhotoShop (got him the Adobe Classroom in a Book), the works. He's also slowly worked through my Mum's Peachpit OS X book. He's a very patient person -- something you have to be if your body is getting a lot slower -- so working thru problems is something he's happy to deal with.

I'm looking into the VNC thing for when he gets back home with his new hip ;-)
posted by i_cola at 1:49 AM on June 10, 2005

I'll put in another vote for a Mac...although it sounds like that isn't an option.

I did all the Mac tech support for an ISP back in the days of dial-up access and worked with a number of older customers with Macs.

I'm still in contact with a couple of them (6 years later) in their 80's and still online.. I do a trip once in a while to correct small problems..

If you can find someone nearby that can fill that role, it will be helpful to her, she's bound to run into problems (expecially with a windoz machine) and it can become very frustrating for them if there isn't a friendly face to give them a hand. A "how to" book for basic use probably wouldn't help in that situation...

Find her a local mentor!
posted by HuronBob at 4:20 AM on June 10, 2005

I teach seniors how to use computers and it's sort of a challenge mainly because there aren't great books about how to do this in large print. I bought some computers-for-seniors books for the library that I worked in and these were the ones I liked
The seniors guide to PC basics large print and sensible, I liked this one

Easy iMac : see it done, do it yourself I think they have a PC version of this, it's very concentrated on little lessons and how-tos

Teach yourself visually computers - more nuts and bolts than most people want, but very very picture oriented with a lot of good explanations abotu what things are doing. Some people love/require this, some don't.

How computers work by Ron White - same deal

Introduction to computers and the Internet for seniors - I'm a little "eh" on this one, but it's in the ballpark. I am also not a senior, so what do I know?

The first week with my new IMac : a very basic guide for anyone who wants to "get connected" by Pam Lessing - very friendly and chatty, a good overview, there is one for PCs as well
I also like the Dummies books and the PC Annoyances books. The Dummies guides have good indexes and can become like little reference books and the PC Annoyances books stress a "you can fix this!" approach. Problems that I run up against with seniors and computers are either

1) timidity, not wanting to go off the beaten path for fear of breaking something, getting lost, feeling stupid, getting a lecture from kids etc

2) hitting a wall. If you're doing something that's step-by-step and for some reason step 3 doesn't work, a lot of novice computer users won't troubleshoot because they're in a totally foreign environment. I'm like this when I work on my car, once I'm off track in the Chilton's Guide on how to do something, I pack up and wait til I can ask someone. In your Mom's situation, I'd try something like this:

a. get her broadband or bulletproof dial-up. The whole "when am I on the internet?" question is confusing to people and moreso when Windows will sometimes make the call for you and sometimes not.

b. simplify the desktop. When I teach seniors I have them write down everything that is on their desktop and we go over them one by one. Showing them how to remove things they don't need is also a good exercise in click and drag.

c. Solitaire - if she's new to a mouse, somethngn that will let her practice is important. If she's got limited mobility in her hands, the double-clicking may be holding her up [many seniors who are new have a hard time holding the mouse still AND clicking twice] you could talk her through changing the double-click setitngs or consider getting her a track ball so she doesn't have to deal with mouse vagaries. These things rule for example.

You may also want to check out the local AmeriCorps or RSVP Corps to see if they do any basic computer instruction like that. I do a similar job now and while I don't do home visits, there's a good chance they will know who does. The general answer to this sort of thing is "ask a kid" they're not the best instructors in the world, but they're generally friendly and non-threatening and sort of know computers as a first language which makes teaching it to someone else easier.

If you do decide to write that book, I'd gladly help. In communities where there isn't a lot of free floating tech knowledge, this is a real tough one.
posted by jessamyn at 6:25 AM on June 10, 2005

Response by poster: Jessamyn, it's been said before and I'll say it again- you rock.
posted by puddinghead at 10:09 AM on June 10, 2005

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