Best practices for setting up computer systems for elderly parents?
March 12, 2023 2:02 PM   Subscribe

I need to set my mom up with some updated computer systems, including a password manager. If you've been doing tech support for elderly family members, what are your go-tos? What's worked well and been accepted and used? I don't mind throwing money at this problem if required.

I'm trying to get my mom some better computer systems that she feels more confident and comfortable with. She's all on Apple products - iPhone, MacBook, and iMac. Is there a password manager than plays particularly well with Apple (or should I just stick with the Keychain function)? Complication that most of the passwords on the iMac are under my dad's AppleID. My dad just passed away, hence this question, but my mom's been managing all of the household accounts for the last few years of his declining health. She's been essentially logging in as him, but it would be better to have everything under her AppleID or another centralized password/account.

The iMac has plenty of space but is glacially slow. I'm running diagnostics and will try to clean a bunch of stuff off of it. My mom's smart but not comfortable or confident with technology. I'm trying to make things as easy as possible for her. Stuff that will help her maintain systems (or should I set up remote monitoring?) would be great, too.
posted by gingerbeer to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Is there a password manager than plays particularly well with Apple

Aww hey sorry for your loss. Keeping passwords in the Keychain and keeping the Keychain in the cloud and having her have a backup hard copy password book is likely going to be simplest for her. Does she use Safari? That will help. She can keep Safari data in the cloud as well (both it and Keychain require not much storage space) and then she can have a similar browsing/password experience across devices.

Are there two AppleIDs, her and your dad's? If so that's going to be a small scale headache as there is no real way to merge them. She should make sure she knows all the secret questions and has the phone number and email access she needs in case there are AppleID concerns she needs to address with his AppleID. Nothing wrong with logging in as him (in my opinion) but there will need to be some consistency moving forward and probably one AppleID chosen as the one to have all the passwords moving forward. It may be possible--and I'm out of my element with this one--to put them both on a family plan with AppleIDs. I don't know too much about this but there is more here.

Does the iMac have a TimeMachine backup? Another useful thing here is to make sure there's a backup with the iMac before you noodle too much with it. Depending how old the iMac is, it might be better to addmore RAM to it, put in a solid-state drive,or just get her a new one. I know there's a limit to what you can do right now, but just thinking that a computer that is speedier can inspire more confidence. You can use something simple like Zoom to do screensharing with her once you're no longer there as long as she's got that basic level of tech competency. Feel free to email me if you'd like to chat more about this.
posted by jessamyn at 2:16 PM on March 12, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, jessamyn.

Yes, she uses Safari as her default browser.

Yes, 2 separate AppleIDs. I know enough to know merging them is a non-starter and am hoping to avoid having to hand-enter a bunch of them. I just switched my personal password manager from LastPass to 1Password and it's much clunkier than I like, so I was hoping that there was some easy technological fix here.

Yes, TimeMachine backups for everything. My dad was on top of the tech stuff until his health started to go, so figure things are probably state of the art from about 4 years ago and haven't been updated since then.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:29 PM on March 12, 2023

Best answer: If she is all in on Apple products, I, like jessamyn, recommend you set her up to use Apple's Keychain as her password manager and enable iCloud Keychain. She should be using her own Apple ID — moving the passwords from your father's account to your mother's account will be annoying as I don't know a better way than manually, but should be done — his account might go away if Apple ever learns he has died. Does he have purchases under his Apple ID account that she would like to continue to access? If so, I recommend using Family Sharing to set up a family that includes both your father's Apple ID and her Apple ID, with her as the family organizer, and turn on purchase sharing. If there are a lot of purchases tied to his Apple ID you probably don't want to inform Apple that he is dead (all purchases are permanently tied to the account that downloaded them and Apple might shutdown an account if you send them a death certificate).

While you are doing this, I encourage you to also set yourself as both the Recovery Contact for her Apple ID (which allows you to assist her in regaining access to her account if she forgets her password) and the Legacy Contact for her Apple ID (which allows you to retrieve some of the data from her account after her death even if you don't know her password).
posted by RichardP at 2:45 PM on March 12, 2023 [4 favorites]

My understanding is you can import passwords to Keychain like any other password manager. I chose 1Password over Keychain recently, but I think the same principle applies. Export the passwords from your dad’s Keychain and import it to hers. Two step process.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:15 PM on March 12, 2023

Honestly, the system that has worked best for my mid-70s parents with a few issues that can affect memory has been a notebook. I know this goes against all sensible security measures, but for two people who rarely leave their house, and the mess we went through when my father was hospitalized and incapacitated for months, and the vast majority of account passwords (including banking and payment for all bills) were under his accounts and/or tied to his email which my mom didn't have access to.... They wanted to use password managers but kept forgetting how to use them in one way or another. They have very low tolerance for frustration these days.

They've gone back to keeping a notebook in a lockable desk drawer and updating it when necessary, because neither of them can forget how to use a notebook (so far) and they both have keys.

My brother and I (their primary tech support) both cringe about this, but we've agreed that a system that works for them (and for us if we need to help intervene in any login-related situation) is far more important in their personal situation than a highly secure system would be.
posted by erst at 3:23 PM on March 12, 2023 [10 favorites]

I use the screen remote control functionality in Zoom, in addition to or alongside using it to chat with parents. When I remotely control their screen screen, I can walk them quickly and clearly through doing things with their computer, without having to rely of confusing and often frustratingly incorrect verbal descriptions of menus or window content.

Apple has similar remote control functionality that works great (if you also use a macOS device) but it can be a bit difficult to manage through ISPs. The nice thing about Zoom is that you don't need to dig into network settings and so on to get a connection going; you click a couple buttons and you're ready to go.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:25 PM on March 12, 2023

Seconding the comments by erst. Years (decades) ago a security expert suggested that you write passwords on a piece of paper and keep it in your wallet because we are already trained to safeguard pieces of paper in our wallets.

On moving password from one account to another, it seems to me that it could be one of those situations where you can spend a couple hours finding and learning the technical way and doing the task in a flash versus sitting down and doing it the slow way in a similar amount of time overall.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:59 AM on March 13, 2023

Best answer: I just spent a weekend getting my mom set up on a new apple laptop. Keeping passwords in a notebook did not work for my mom (she would get confused about upper case Is and lower case ls and 0 and O, etc). Plus she would skim through the book and not see that she already had a password for something, so she would reset it, but then the next time she would see the initial password, etc. I put them into an excel spreadsheet and printed it in large type.

It goes against all security measures, when we were resetting dumb passwords, I made them all the same. I guess I am not threatened by the risks of someone logging into her myriad recipe and cooking websites.

I spent a lot of time getting her passwords stored on the machine and getting her used to using the fingerprint.

The most key--if you also have a mac, Screen Sharing is amazing, and allows me to log into her computer remotely and fix issues. It's so much easier to just log in and see her screen.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 8:19 AM on March 13, 2023

I strongly suggest installing an ad blocker in any browsers she might use. Ads and third-party javascript (like for tracking) can install malware, they lead to scams, they can just make it harder to read or use a website, and they substantially slow down the browsing experience. All three of those are even more of an issue for an older user on older hardware. uBlock Origin is highly recommended by lots of folks. Install it and it will just work and update itself in the background. Optionally, you can activate more filters than the default set in the preferences, but the defaults are pretty good. uBlock Origin will work on the iMac and Macbook. I'm not as familiar with ad blockers for iOS, but I know there are options there, too.
posted by whatnotever at 9:32 AM on March 13, 2023 [1 favorite]

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