The viewpoint that seniors are slow to embrace modern communications technology is fading fast. According to the Pew Research Center, six out of ten seniors in the US now use the Internet, and nearly 50% have access to high-speed broadband in their homes. However, the online world still can be daunting for some, and especially for a generation that did not grow up in the Internet age. Here are some general suggestions to help seniors make Internet use more convenient, practical and secure:
Use basic settings that are right for you. At times, accessing the Internet can be frustrating for some because they cannot read the text on the screen or hear the sound coming from the computer, due to visual and hearing limitations. The size of the print and the loudness of the sound can be permanently adjusted to suit your requirements. If you do not know how to make these adjustments, consult a friend or family member who does.
Consider using a tablet for the convenience of touch. Some seniors dislike using the mouse or the scratchpad that comes with desktop, laptop and notebook computers, or have difficulty typing. If that describes you, consider the advantage of a tablet, which allows you to execute commands simply by touching the screen. A large keyboard may also be helpful. However, keep in mind that for most convenient use, touch screens require a fairly steady hand and a reasonably prompt reaction time.
Take advantage of online financial management. For seniors who have mobility issues, or who want the convenience of not having to leave home in inclement weather, such functions as online banking, credit card payments, and brokerage account transactions, or even online grocery shopping can be useful tools. Of huge importance, however, is the need to establish and safeguard a strong password for each account. Remembering all of your passwords can be challenging for persons of any age, so be sure to write them down and put them in a safe and easy-to-remember place.
Connect to government services and health information sources. A wealth of information about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs is available on their websites, as is health information from such sources as the National Institutes of Health.
Protect your computer with anti-virus and anti-malware. There are many different products on the market for this type of protection. Research your options to see which program will work best for you. Just be sure that it keeps your device updated with protective software that keeps pace with evolving threats.
Be prudent about using Wi-Fi. If you like to travel, chances are you will want to bring your computer or tablet along with you and take advantage of hotel, airport or train station Wi-Fi “hot spots.” That is fine for Internet browsing, so long as you are mindful that other users have access to the same hot spot as you do at the same time. Do not conduct financial transactions or access financial accounts using public Wi-Fi.
Be alert to scams perpetrated online. Seniors often are targeted with scams, so never respond to online requests for your social security number or other sensitive information, even if the request seems to come from the IRS, FBI or your bank or credit card company. No law enforcement, government or legitimate financial institution will ever ask for such information online. As a general rule, avoid participating in online contests, accepting “free” offers, or clicking on links sent by unfamiliar sources.
Avoid paying for more broadband than you need. Very-high-speed Internet can be quite expensive and generally is unnecessary for most seniors. Some service providers boast about Internet speeds up to 200 megabytes per second or more, but such speeds are needed mainly for households where families use multiple devices at the same time. For the typical senior, 50 megabytes usually is more than adequate. Discuss how you use the Internet with your service provider before signing up for a given speed.
Of course, aside from using the Internet to obtain information, you may also want to engage in social media activities. If so, enjoy exchanging Facebook posts with the grandkids or posting on Instagram about that unforgettable trip to Italy you finally took. Just be careful about making information public that could compromise safety, such as the dates when you or a relative will be away from home.
The Internet is fun and can be extremely helpful to seniors, if it is used wisely.