Facebooking with Grandma

So you’ve tried to show your grandmother how to use Facebook three times and she can never remember how to log in… Or you desperately need your mother to learn to text so she won’t interrupt your workday with calls.

Interestingly, though, once older adults get online, they tend to be very active!

Why is it difficult to teach older adults how to use the Internet, cell phones, and other technology? And given the uses and benefits that most of us value so highly, why do some seniors seem unmotivated to learn?

The Slow Starter

The number of seniors using the Internet has grown much more slowly year by year than the rate of Internet use by adults in general. In 2012, the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project was finally able to announce that more than half (53 percent) of American adults over age 65 are online and using e-mail. When asked their reasons for not going online, most said they either “didn’t need it,” didn’t see the benefits of it, or didn’t know how to access it.

Interestingly, though, once older adults get online, they tend to be very active!

What does this suggest? That seniors only discover the benefits of being online once they are. In other words, showing your grandmother the baby pictures your sister just posted on Facebook is going to be a much more powerful motivator than anything you can say.

How to Help

The best way to help a slow starter is with the simplest possible technology and step-by-step demonstrations. So next time you visit, sit down with Dad or Grandma and walk them slowly through the basic steps, starting wherever they are. If your loved one is resisting the introduction of technology at home, get her started at the library, or bring your own laptop or tablet over to show her what she’s missing.


  • Many adult day programs and community centers offer such courses, too.
  • Keep in mind any physical limitations — if your loved one has arthritis that interferes with typing, for example, a tablet or an oversized keyboard might be the solution.
  • If eyesight is an issue, there are phones designed with larger interfaces, and you can increase type size on devices and computers.

The Nervous Nellie

“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll be able to learn to use it,” your elderly parent says when you offer to buy her a smartphone. Many older adults respond to the constant demands of changing times by becoming easily intimidated and even fearful. Often their nervousness is accompanied by self-doubt and a sort of fatalism: “I think it’s a little late in life for me to learn all that

How to Help

Like most of us, older adults learn best with one-on-one, hands-on show-and-tell. And the more nervous and intimidated your loved one is about technology, the more important it is to transmit information in small bites. Show your loved one how to do one thing at a time, and let her practice doing it on her own multiple times before moving on to another challenge. Also, don’t throw a bunch of new tools at her at once; the government survey found that seniors learn best when technology is delivered using equipment they’re already familiar with. Of course, this doesn’t help if your parent or loved one uses no technology at all, but it suggests that if your loved one already has experience with one type of technology, you might want to increase her skills in that area before trying a new device.

The Cranky Curmudgeon

We all know at least one person who falls into this camp — or we might even describe ourselves this way, at least under some circumstances. The operative issue here as it relates to technology is temper; the curmudgeon has a low frustration threshold, is easily annoyed, and lacks the patience to work through problems when they arise. (Which they will do — adapting to new technology is never problem free.)

How to Help

To prevent frustration, set low expectations from the start, explaining that pretty much everyone gets stuck early on and it’s no big deal. To combat crankiness, offer plenty of positive reinforcement after each task. If your loved one gets impatient with you, you can speed up the pace of your instruction, but stop frequently and have her practice each skill. (Otherwise you’ll trigger frustration when she can’t remember.) If she gets impatient with herself, you can try humor to defuse the situation, offer reassurance, take a break, or simply overlook the grumpiness and keep going.

The Budget-Conscious User

Many seniors live on tight budgets and have to pay close attention to expenses. Owning a computer or setting up cable access may feel like an expense they can’t afford. That said, the government’s study on barriers to Internet use found that many seniors overestimate the cost of technology by a wide margin, based on outdated information or a misunderstanding of what type of equipment they need.

How to Help

Take your loved one to a store with a good technology department and introduce him to the variety of options available. Explain that tablets, netbooks, and laptops are available at much lower cost than the big desktop computers he’s more familiar with. If your loved one can’t afford or balks at monthly payments for Internet access or a data plan, you can introduce her to the computers at the public library or see if he’s interested in a Wi-Fi-only tablet that he can use in cafes and other public places. Studies show that once older adults discover the ways in which the Internet and social media enhance their lives, they become more open to paying for those services.

The Stay-at-Homer

“I’m always here, so why would I need a cell phone?” If you’ve ever heard this one, you know you’re in for a chicken-and-egg discussion. Many seniors are so used to relying on a home phone and voice mail that they don’t realize it’s exerting a habit-forming pull. (“I need to stay home in case Mary calls.”)

But isolation can become a habit, and not a good one. Recently, experts in aging have begun to focus on what some are calling an “epidemic of loneliness” among older adults. More seniors today live alone than at any time before, and many do not have strong social networks for support. Studies have shown that for many older adults, isolation gradually breeds fear, social anxiety, and increases the likelihood of depression and health problems.

While technology is of value, there is no substitute for human contact. A few hours a week with a local Hopkinton Home Care caregiving can keep older adults in their homes longer as well.

Hopkinton Home Care caregivers are screened, trained and equipped to provide that human touch that companionship that technology cannot. Services are provided from a few hours a week up to 24 hours a day – including weekends and holidays. Give the gift of companionship this holiday season – and perhaps that companion can help with the training of technology for when you are not around.

Keep in touch for when you need it!

Hopkinton Home Care provides quality home care services in your home with an assisted living focus on the entire needs of each and every individual that we serve.


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