How to Explain Computers to Old People

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Computers can be great tools with which the elderly to stay in contact with family members all over the country or world. It also can be used to find old friends, explore topics and keep abreast of news events. However, when explaining the operation of computers to old people, it is important to remember that this level of technology is new to them. The concept may be overwhelming at first, which is completely understandable.

Things You'll Need

  • Computer with Internet connection
  • Talk about the overall concept of a computer, including what it is and why it is important and valuable. Do this before stepping in front of a computer to use as a guide. For example, you can say "A computer can be your typewriter, your television, your radio, your newspaper, your file cabinet, your postal service and your bank, all in one device."

  • Start with the very basics. On a desktop, point out the power button. Turn the computer on. Show the older person how to turn it on. If you use a laptop, explain that you must open the lid before you can access the power button. Show her how to open the lid. Show him the power button.

  • Explain what various parts of a computer do, in terms to which the older person will relate. For example, the keyboard is modeled after that of a typewriter, with certain additions and exceptions. Explain what a cursor is and does, and that a mouse or use of finger allows you to control the cursor on the screen. Show her how, by placing the cursor on an icon or link and clicking it, that icon can open an application. Explain what an application or program does, always relating it to something easily grasped by the older user..

  • Proceed through basic terms and concepts. Don't show an older person the most advanced thing you can think of, but dedicate time to the basics. Show her how to use the "Start" menu on a Windows computer, and describe it in simple terms: "The button you can use to open all programs." Show him the difference between double-clicking and single-clicking. If necessary, explain that the computer the Internet are not one and the same.

  • When describing the concept of email, compare and contrast it with the postal service: One person composes a message and sends it to the other person using the Internet. Instead of waiting days or weeks for that letter to arrive, it arrives instantly. Remind the user-to-be that no postage is needed to send an email and that the process is free.

  • Be patient. Keep in mind that home computers only have come into prominence in the last 20 or so years, and that an older person may be playing catch-up with technology. Its understandable that she may take time to grasp the concept of a computer or Web browser, a concept that did not exist when she was born. Don't treat an older person like a child, but don't get frustrated if he takes time to learn, either.

  • Explain things multiple times. After you show the older person how to open a program, come back to the same concept later to confirm that the ideas you're trying to convey are sinking in.

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