Computing for a 90-year-old?
August 7, 2012 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Computing for a 90-year-old? Gramps might finally be interested in the wonderful world of the Internet.

My grandpa (who just turned 90 (!)) might be interested in getting some sort of computer. Gramma and gramps have a computer, which Gramma uses about once every two months, and she's "not there" enough to notice that it's not working (the computer is a hunk of scrap at this point). Up to this point Grandpa has shown no interest whatsoever in computers, even refusing to look at a Wikipedia article on something he'd asked me about. He has never learned to type, and the extent of his gadgetry is one of those Franklin spellcheckers from 20 years ago that he used to fill out crosswords.

At this point in his life, the former amateur gymnast can barely make it up the stairs any more, and he's got enough tremor that he can't do his crosswords. With Gramma not being "there" all the time, he's pretty isolated. This past weekend, my mom (who recently got a smartphone) showed him some of my pictures on Flickr, and a few texts back we'd exchanged--and she said it was like a light bulb went off; he was really interested.

I have a spare computer - desktop - that I could hook up to their TV, but I'm not sure he'd cotton to using a mouse and keyboard from the couch. On the other hand, some sort of tablet might not be big enough for him to read (?). So I turn to the hive for ideas, suggestions, both as to the hardware and the software best for a 90-year-old with no prior computer use, less-than-great vision, and a tremor. His mind is still completely there, FWIW. I envision his apps would be: texting all the relatives (or voice to text); crosswords; browsing photo galleries; wikipedia.

(my thoughts tended toward using a tablet to control the TV, using an OS that worked kinda like android.)
posted by notsnot to Technology (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I constantly get this racy, geriatric spam from my 96-yo aunt. She loves the net, and I think that it keeps her going, as she lives in assisted living.

Go for it.

My mom has had Web TV forever, and uses that pretty well.
posted by Danf at 11:14 AM on August 7, 2012

Do you have a tablet that can be loaned to him to try (after an orientation)? It seems like that's a natural place to start. He can easily zoom the screen to make text and images larger and can easily surf around with one. I don't think a desktop or hooking something to his TV would be the best place to start. The bonus with a tablet is that the interface is very easy to learn.
posted by quince at 11:14 AM on August 7, 2012

I've heard a lot of raves about iPads from folks who work with seniors - they're simple, they remove a lot of the worst parts of the keyboard/mouse learning curve, and they're nearly impossible to 'break.' These days the Nexus 7 might also be worth a look.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:24 AM on August 7, 2012

I'm not sure he'd cotton to using a mouse and keyboard from the couch

I tried to teach my grandfather to use the computer, and I can tell you from experience, that he may not cotton to using a mouse period. It was insanely difficult for my grandfather to grasp and execute concepts like single vs. double click, left vs right click, and click-and-drag. If I had it to do over again, I would at least try a tablet first.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have an older relative - close to your grandfather's age - who had never used a computer before, and the iPad is what worked for her. She really likes it. I wonder if you can take him somewhere to try one out, see if it works for his vision? Or maybe you could get a used early-generation one for cheap?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:29 AM on August 7, 2012

Tablet would be the place to start. I got my 72 yo mother interested in computing by starting with an ereader (Nook touch) and working her up to a tablet once she was comfortable. A tablet with a simple email set up, an IM app and a few word games might be the place to start. She has trouble with arthritis in her fingers and is legally blind, so she uses it at a table not sitting on a couch and finds that a lot easier.

It is easy enough to change settings so fonts and icons are bigger too. I'd get a largish screen one and if you keep the desktop organised for him and are willing to put in the time setting things up to automate that would help him too until he gets more comfortable. If his eye sight is OK I'd recommend a Nexus 7 you'd probably only need the 8G version, but an iPad might be easier as it is a lot more integrated and a larger screen and you can pick up older ones pretty reasonably.
posted by wwax at 11:31 AM on August 7, 2012

Also, as I read through the answers on that old question of mine, I noticed jessamyn's good suggestion of a trackball instead of a mouse, which may be of interest to you specifically.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2012

I would not try anything with a mouse with someone who has a tremor. Either look into getting a trackball for a pointing device or something with a touch screen. I have taught people in their eighties to use computers and if they're mostly going to do browsing and light communication, something like an ipad would be easier than anything that will talk to them about viruses or otherwise require configuration.
posted by jessamyn at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2012

I was going to suggest an iPad but a 90-year-old gentleman might find it difficult to manipulate some aspects of the interface with all the pinching and clawing of the pixels.

How about a vanilla desktop PC with some usability added:
* a high quality LCD screen where you can set the resolution to something fairly low so you get larger text and graphics.

* a trackball because it's easier to use than a mouse.

* Setup Windows built-in magnifier tool and make sure grandpa can easily access it.

* Use Chrome or Firefox and create bookmarks to frequently visited sites. Make it easily to use the zoom thingy.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2012

Regarding multi-touch vs mouse: he's still got dexterity, it's just that he shakes a bit when he's got no anchor. I *think* that with his finger anchored on the screen, the shake is somewhat factored out.

And holy cow, I didn't realize the Nexus 7 was only a couple hundred bucks. That looks really damn sweet.
posted by notsnot at 11:43 AM on August 7, 2012

My mom wants an iPad because all her friends have one. We're talking pre-feminist homemakers who rarely speak English, never worked outside the home and certainly never had a driver's license.

nthing the tablet, if babies can pinch and tweak then so can their great grandfathers.
posted by infini at 11:44 AM on August 7, 2012

My grandmother will be 90 in January and her laptop is her favorite thing in the world. She tried a netbook, but the screen was just too small. She used our iPad and there was very little learning curve, but she found it difficult to type.

Right now she has a basic laptop with a 17 inch screen and separate mouse (the trackpad did not work for her). Most importantly, we created shortcuts on her desktop to the websites she uses the most (email, facebook, a bridge website).
posted by elvissa at 11:50 AM on August 7, 2012

I will also recommend a tablet, mostly because tablets hide all the backend file management stuff and interaction with the OS that experienced users love and need, but which just confuse new users. I recently passed my old Macbook on to my mom, and while my mom is competent enough at the basics, everything else that involves interacting with files outside of their programs is counter-intuitive and baffling to her. A tablet will meet your grandpa's needs without introducing a lot of extra he'll have to learn about.
posted by yasaman at 11:54 AM on August 7, 2012

iPad, all the way. I have more than one family member who couldn't make heads or tails of a conventional computer after many, many attempts. After an hour with the iPad, they were sending emails and playing Words with Friends.
posted by the jam at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2012

Start with a tablet, for sure! We got our grandfather an Android tablet for his 90th birthday (no computer experience, let alone internet) a few months ago and now he literally can't live without it. We're thinking of getting him a wireless keyboard to make typing easier, though.
posted by perkinite at 1:53 PM on August 7, 2012

Having support people over 60 in my family (and the GF's) using technology for the past few years, iPad. Bring one over, see if they like it, set them up with Flickr (to see photos you upload), Email (to correspond with you, FB is less simple), Safari with a bunch of favorites on the home screen for easy launching and a ton of their music ripped and copied into the music app. I will never again try to help an older person use a desktop or laptop.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:50 PM on August 7, 2012

A friend just showed her 80-something aunt an iPad, and Auntie loved it, and was able to use it pretty quickly, esp. for pictures. For typing, get an external keyboard. The mouse is not an easy adjustment for people who've never used one, but that's why solitaire is on windows; it's a great way to master mouse skills. The ease of taking and viewing pictures is a huge benefit. We're all assuming there's wifi in the house; iPad isn't as much use without it.
posted by theora55 at 8:35 PM on August 7, 2012

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