Pro tips for setting up iPad for elderly mom
December 20, 2014 10:20 AM   Subscribe

This question - how to set up an iPad for an elderly relative - has been asked frequently before. I'll summarize what I learned from those threads and ask a few new questions related to new iOS 8 features and cases, keyboards, and styluses.

I bought an iPad Air for my 85 year old mom and am looking for advice on setting it up (something I'll do later this weekend). She uses a windows desktop computer today and does OK, and has broadband. I'll also be setting up a WiFi access point and will be with her a couple of days over Christmas to give her a few lessons on using the iPad. Complications: she has arthritis, and macular degeneration, so has some trouble with her hands and vision isn't that great. I bought her a Kindle DX a couple of years ago and it didn't go that well - the chiclet style keyboard was just too small and hard to read. My complications: I live a couple hundred miles away. I have an iPad, but it is first generation, so I'm not familiar with iOS features on an iPad beyond iOS 5 (I do use iOS 8 on a phone).

This question has been asked more than a few times over the years, but I don't see anything more recent than December of 2013 (Here are the most helpful threads I found: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). Here are my main take-aways from reading through those discussions:

- There are a number of accessibility settings in iOS that I can tweak to make things more readable, like size of text and contrast (iOS 7 accessibility tips linked here and here)
- A stylus is a good idea as an add-on
- A bluetooth keyboard is a good idea as an add-on (and don't skimp here)
- There are iPad cases that are easy to grip, with handstraps on the back
- iPads end up generating a lot of user IDs and passwords, so write them down somewhere in case they are needed
- Set up an iTunes account/Apple ID without a credit card linked to it; I can always do that later or gift in money for apps
- Set up FaceTime to be able to message and video chat with my mom
- Set up PhotoStream to be able to share photos

Here are my specific questions that are a little more geared towards 2014:

- The last review of cases with straps/handgrips I found was dated 2012. I'm looking for up-to-date recommendations on a case with some kind of strap or handgrip to make it easier for mom to hold onto the device with her arthritic hands.
- I don't use a stylus myself, any recommendations there? I imagine something big/fat would probably be better.
- Same with bluetooth keyboards. Any particular recommendations?
- One of the new things that came out with iOS 8 are third party (software) keyboards. I googled to see if there are better choices out there than the default keyboard that Apple provides, but found this disappointing review at that basically says, "too early."
- My thought was to create an iTunes account for my mom without a credit card attached, and also to turn on the "Family Sharing" feature in iOS 8 - good idea?
- What iOS8 features am I overlooking here?
- What applications should I plan to preload for her? My mom likes to read about current events, likes to do the crossword puzzle in her daily newspaper, and likes to read novels. Based on the other threads I linked above, I'm planning to load Kindle, Flipboard, and a weather app. What else?
- Any other advice you would give me to make it a good experience? Once I walk out the door on the day after Christmas, I'll probably be gone until March, so I want to plan as much in advance as I can. I'm especially interested in anything that would let me assist her remotely.

Thanks as always for your ideas and assistance!
posted by kovacs to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer:
I don't use a stylus myself, any recommendations there? I imagine something big/fat would probably be better.
My mother (67) and her best friend (similar age) both use styluses with their iPads. Both use 6mm nibs, which seems to be high enough fidelity to play most games but low enough fidelity to reduce the requirement for too much precision.
likes to do the crossword puzzle in her daily newspaper
I've tried just about every crossword puzzle app, and most of them are poorly disguised money collection schemes. They let you do a few crosswords for free, but then require you to continually buy new lives/stars/crossword currency in order to continue. Unlike most in-app purchase games, they are generally not set up to allow you to just wait for new crosswords or win enough currency while playing to continue without spending money. The best one, by far, is Crosswords Classic. It's expensive by app standards (10 bucks) but vastly superior to the free ones. I used to like the NYT xword app, but it's been crashy and unreliable lately.

As for other apps, if Facebook is any indication, my 89 year-old uncle can't get enough of Diamond Dash and Candy Crush. As far as I know he never spends any money, but he's definitely not averse to begging for lives at 3am. My mother is also hugely into the match-3s, which she plays while "watching" television.
posted by xyzzy at 10:46 AM on December 20, 2014

Best answer: For a stylus, check out the Cosmonaut.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:49 AM on December 20, 2014

Best answer: It looks like the stylus and crossword questions are answered better than anything I have to offer.

I will point you to this article about family sharing as it does a fine job of pointing out it's limitations.

Additionally I would also recommend a Dropbox account. It's a great way (with shared folders) of pushing content to her and it offers a platform agnostic means of sharing photos from the device. When we did something similar for my great aunt this turned out to be important as no one realized that we had just given her a better camera than anything she had ever owned previously.
posted by mce at 11:18 AM on December 20, 2014

Best answer: If she's a reader consider getting her a book to go along with it. Missing Manuals are good and they have one for iOS8. Check to see if her local library has ipad classes or what books they have, that might also be helpful. Maybe set her up with an Overdrive Media Console account if she wants to borrow books from the library (and set it up for her, the setup sucks but the process works well once it's set up). The great thing about ebooks is you can make the font super big and if she's reading with high contrast (or even text-to-speech) it's a pretty good experience.

I'd also do a few things

- make some of the motion stuff calm down a little, turn off parallax etc.
- set up the notification center to not be a pain in the ass. Some people get rattled when there are banners and whatnot flying everywhere for apps they barely use (really 2048? You miss me?)
- go through the privacy settings for stuff like adding locations to her photos (yes or no?) and other privacy stuff. There are good web pages that can step you through the things to check
- similar for battery life stuff. There are a ton of apps that do useless phoning home that drains battery, you can stop that
- suggest a charging station for her and a second charging cord for travel. One stays plugged in somewhere convenient ALWAYS and one can travel if she goes somewhere. Maybe a longer charging cable for home so she can read/charge in her favorite chair/bed.
- consider adding desktop links for sites with good content and mobile versions like NYTimes or Economist or whatever. Even good blogs with links to good stuff like ALDaily can be fine. She doesn't have to care if it's an app or a shortcut. Show her what a site looks like when it's trying to get you to use the app instead of the site (annoying, and confusing to people just getting used to iOS)

And then spend some time with her mostly letting her drive but explaining how to do things like

- move and reorder and delete apps
- put apps in "folders"
- find and change systems settings
- send and receive email and deal with attachments
- put it to sleep, turn it off, turn it on, go back to "home"
- how to close an ad, what to do if you click on an ad, etc.

For a lot of people the hardest thing is pushing the Home button to get back to the desktop-like space. They feel they need to quit the program. They don't BUT knowing how to quit a program is a hugely empowering experience and sometimes takes a little finesse, so step her through how to quit programs

My mom who is a bit younger than yours uses hers for music and watching videos and reading news but not too much else. Facebook maybe. Worth explaining how facebook in the iPad is different than facebook on the computer, if she's a facebooker. In fact a little chitchat on how apps can be (but aren't always) different from websites might be useful.
posted by jessamyn at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

For an ebook reader program Marvin is the best. It has the most flexibility in adjusting layouts including text/background for high contrast. There are good voice to text apps such as, Voice Dream. Those programs can be spendy at ~$10 and then get you on in-app purchases for voices, but if she wants to hear articles from text that is definitely an option, especially if the built-in function in iOS is problematic.
posted by jadepearl at 11:52 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

They feel they need to quit the program. They don't BUT knowing how to quit a program is a hugely empowering experience and sometimes takes a little finesse, so step her through how to quit programs

I really wouldn't recommend showing her this. Just tell her than when she's finished with a program (or she gets stuck in any way) then she should just press the home button and forget about it.

It may take her a short while to get used to the concept, but that's infinitely better than her always going through the convoluted steps (you showed her) to force quit app that for 99% of the time don't need it doing. My 68 year old parents got it in about 30 minutes.

The only thing that will do is serve to make her think that the iPad is far more complicated than it really is.
posted by mr_silver at 3:01 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

- Add icon shortcuts to the home screen for any web site which she is going to visit frequently. This helped my grandma 'read' Google News which I doubt she'd have accessed otherwise. (Seniors seem to never close browser tabs... perhaps a concept worth explaining?)

- Add the Twitter feeds for local news and/or local services (the city, etc) within Flipboard.
posted by sylvanshine at 6:15 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From personal experience, nothing beats Apple's own bluetooth keyboard ($70, machined aluminum, no number pad, battery powered). It's basically the same layout as the ones that come with iMacs: solid, nice keyspring, quiet.

My lousy eyes second Marvin for ePubs, but it has no DRM support. If you're willing to do the Calibre magic it's trivial to strip DRM or convert Kindle -> ePub. If she keeps her Windows machine, she could use Calibre herself. Calibre's interface is opaque to me; maybe she'll be luckier?

Install the electronic medical record software her healthcare provider uses (e.g., Epic's MyChart), so she can track meds, make and review appointments, message doctors, etc. Have her step through logging in. If you're her health care proxy, you might wish to have access to that account as well.

She may wish to use the iPad for other mundane tasks— banking, library holds, bus schedules—particularly when the iPad provides larger, clearer print than the analog original.

The Magnifying Glass with Light uses the flash and camera to get closeup pictures. Excellent for untangling yarn stitches, isolating wood slivers, sending pictures of scary rashes through MyChart, etc.

Last item: a password keeper! Maintaining password hygiene is more likely with auxiliary memory support. I've had zero problems with 1Password for four years on iOS and OS X (also no breakins and no lost passwords).
posted by Jesse the K at 7:59 AM on December 21, 2014

Yeah, definitely show her how to turn off app notifications. Those are annoying.
I saw stilii from crayola at Staples or office Depot. ..same 6mm nib but a bigger handle.
posted by sexyrobot at 4:05 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the very helpful answers. I've taken most of your advice in configuring the iPad and bought the Apple bluetooth keyboard that Jesse the K suggested. The Family Sharing wasn't all I hoped it would be - better than nothing, but doesn't really fit my use case. I'll plan to add a comment after Christmas listing the steps I took in detail for any future readers of this thread.
posted by kovacs at 7:51 PM on December 22, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks yet again, everyone, you definitely all helped save Christmas for me. The biggest challenge ended up being WiFi - my mom had a low end DSL modem that would not flip into bridge mode, so I ended up making a late Christmas eve shopping trip to the local Walmart to buy a new DSL modem. Here is the punch list of everything I ended up doing to prep the iPad:
  • Bought a stylus. I didn't find a "fat one" at my local stores, but am going to fix that.
  • Bought a Mac bluetooth keyboard (as recommended above by Jesse the K)
  • Fully charge it
  • Config the iPad to talk to my Mom's WiFi access point
  • Created an iTunes account without a credit card: Apple support article. If you just try to do this from iTunes w/o doing the “free purchase”, it will balk on the payment information screen. Created the password recovery questions and pointed the recovery email to my personal email. I wrote all of this down for later.
  • Turn on family sharing and link my mom's iTunes account to mine and my credit card. There is an "ask before purchase" feature, but it is designed for kids; I put in my mom's real age, which means she can buy things and I'll just see the purchases roll through. Apple support article.
  • Turn off screen lock
  • Turn on iCloud
  • Turn on “find my iPad"
  • Increase font size
  • Turn on “on/off” labels - MacObserver article describing how to
  • Turn bold text on - MacObserver article describing how to
  • Turned on dynamic text - MacObserver article describing how to
  • Increase the contrast - MacObserver article describing how to
  • (was planning to turn off some of the more exotic multi-touch gestures, but didn't in the end)
  • Set up FaceTime, verify it is working, add myself as a contact
  • Set up Photostream and preload it with a bunch of pictures. This was time consuming, like a couple of hours.
  • Install some of the apps that were recommended: Kindle, Flipboard, Crossword Classic (which was a big hit, by the way - thanks for the rec, xyzzy)
  • Organize some of the built in apps I know she won't use into folders to clean up the desktop
  • Paired the keyboard with the iPad
  • Printed out the WiFi and Apple ID user names and passwords in giant font on a piece of paper to keep in a safe place
I sat with my mom and had two tutorial sessions on how to use the iPad. The biggest surprise: how long it took her to get the hang of using the touch screen. She was alternating between being too tentative and not registering a "hit", or pushing too hard/long and flipping it in the mode for moving/deleting apps. We checked out the schedule at her local life long learning center and they had three different iPad classes, so she'll be taking one of those for sure.
posted by kovacs at 7:02 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

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