Keeping these five factors in mind can help the senior in your life become more digitally-savvy in short order:
Change the narrative. Attitude is everything, and yours will impact theirs. Despite increasing numbers of older Canadians using the internet and smart phones, trying new things can still be harder as we age. Ageist stereotypes about seniors’ competence and their learning abilities can actually diminish someone’s self-efficacy. That means if someone thinks we think they won’t be great with tech, they’re more anxious about adopting it. You can shake that up with a positive attitude. Read: leave the jokes behind, and lead with empathy.
Make them part of the conversation. For the most part, Canadian seniors believe technological advances can help older adults stay safe, independent and in their own home longer. Seven in 10 agree it can help them dial back social isolation, stay active, and better manage their health. Putting them in the driver’s seat to determine which technologies are the most interesting to them, and where they want to focus, can help build on that positive momentum. Remember: you don’t have to boil the ocean. Figuring out if someone’s most interested in a lifeline technology, the ability to attend a doctor’s appointment online, or simply playing a round of Scrabble through an online community can up the chance they’ll actually use it.
- Start off on the right foot. Someone’s experience with technology will only be as good as the time you spend with them setting it up. Even if that means talking them through a new app or a home assistant by phone while we’re social distancing: you get out what you brief in. Try to condense instructions down to a simple process. Then, create a cheat sheet to be printed to remind someone of key details (i.e. use XX to order your book, try XX when you want to video chat with Aunt Sally, check out XX when you want to see the grandkids’ photos). Include passwords and simple reminders for trouble shooting.
Safety is everything. Senior citizens are the fastest growing population coming online. But don’t forget: things that seem like common sense for you may not be table stakes for them. Having a basic conversation about internet scams (malicious software, phishing, etc.) in layman’s terms; providing a list of credible websites to use; helping them know the signs that a website is secure; outlining the info we should never share in the course of a game or contest; and empowering them to create solid passwords all count.
- Above all, keep communicating. Ensuring the senior in your life feels they can come to you with questions or concerns without being embarrassed is really important. Just like monitoring a teenager’s internet and social media use, creating open and honest two-way dialogue (with zero judgement) with a senior can help you head potential trouble off at the pass. Check in with them often, ask lots of questions, and get them to show you how they’re using technology from time to time.
Tech tools are only as powerful as the up-front work you do to tee someone up for success. Even if you can’t spend in-person time together right now, a phone call can help you set things up well. Continuing the conversation down the road can ensure things are on the up and up, empowering the senior in your life to make the most of technology.