Computers Why Older Adults should not Ignore Them

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This article was edited and updated on December 23, 2021.

Our Changing World

The computer may have seemed strange when we first saw it in the 1980's, but it was inevitable that we would have to learn about this machine.

It might seem strange for a fitness instructor to be writing about older adults and their use of computers, but there is a connection, however slim it might be. Computers are a tool which older adults can make great use of — if they are willing to take the time to learn. In addition, as we age, learning new skills always improves our cognitive skills. 2

I am well aware that, for those of us in the "older adult" category, computers came on the scene during the end of our working years — or not at all. For some of us, we had to learn about computers and how to use them in order to keep our jobs. I was a teacher for 32 years, and I was expected to use a computer to send in my students' marks for at least ten years before I retired. As a typist and especially as a writer, however, I was intrigued by computers from the very beginning.

This is not the case, of course, for many. So why should anyone learn how to use a computer if they've managed to get this far in life without one? If you are reading this, you possibly don't need this information. However, possibly you would like to know more about how to use a computer. Or maybe you have a friend who wants or needs to learn — so maybe you can convince them of the computer's benefits.

The reality is that computers will be more a part of our lives in ten years than they are now. We seem to be driven by a desire to become a paperless society, and these days the expectation is that everyone will go to their computer to find the information they need.

So what does the computer do for me?

I was working on my personal income taxes recently, and there was a notice that the Canada Revenue Agency will no longer accept cheques in 2017 — taxpayers will have to pay online. How, I wondered, will people who do not know how to use computers manage that?

One obvious answer is that you can still go to your bank and deposit funds or pay bills with a human being standing on the other side of the counter. So, perhaps you can still avoid the computer. What else, then, does the computer offer?

For me, the most important asset of the computer and the internet today is a vast array of information — admittedly, not all of it correct or accurate — but it's there for you to read and consider. From my perspective, Wikipedia is the most amazing asset of the internet.

I've used the internet for all of these purposes:

The computer (and my iPad and iPhone) is also used for email, writing articles, and texting (it is the most common way I communicate with my son now). I access my bank and savings accounts from my computer. I know many people who use the internet to book their flight plans, cruises, and vacations.

How can older adults learn about computers?

It's not easy. Fortunately, I have learned much through my own experiences, during the last few years of my teaching career, and from my husband and son. Generally speaking, it's pretty hard for anyone to teach it to themselves, so it helps to have a mentor.

There are adult classes to help adults learn how to use the computer. You have to go looking for them, and you have to be willing to commit to this idea.

A small study at the University of Tampere in Finland, run by Anne Aula, worked with older adults to determine if they could learn to use the computer. 3 Here are excerpts from the conclusion of the study:

First, here were some of the problems that arose:

"The most serious problems the seniors faced had to do with editing the text in the queries."

"The problems with understanding the structure of the web were revealed by the difficulties in getting back to the search engine after navigating away from it..."

"Some age-related challenges were also found, for example, difficulties in using the mouse for pointing." 4

"[Some participants had] difficulties in understanding the scope of the searches provided in some web sites, and problems in understanding the relationship between the links to a certain page and that page’s URL (in search engine’s result listing)."

Finally, here are some of the positive comments:

"[Some] participants were complete novices in information search from the web, [but] they all could successfully complete at least a couple of search tasks."

"[These] seniors were enthusiastic about learning to use computers, although some of them had had negative experiences with computers earlier."

"Learning was ... challenging and the need for support became evident both in the interviews and during [the workshops]."

"[They] were able to use a search engine successfully after only a couple of minutes of training."

"There were several problems during the search that might have made the seniors quit the task if left alone — and certainly these problems would have made less motivated seniors give up (with possibly a heightened negative attitude towards computers)."

"Younger people typically learn to use computers in close co-operation with other people and we should not expect elderly to learn this demanding skill themselves."

Being a Luddite just means you're missing out!

I knew several colleagues in my final years of teaching who remained Luddites about their use of the computer — even sending in their marks was an ordeal for them because they either had to figure it out alone or ask someone else to do it for them. Resisting such changes seemed futile to me, and although I am well aware that we have had to make changes in our lives to accomodate changing technology, it has always seemed wiser to benefit from the new technology than to fight it.

We can all have difficulties with the changing technology we have experienced in our days on this planet. Everything from telephones to recording devices, from typewriters to computers, has changed. We can either join and learn about the new technology, or we can remain behind and miss out on a lot of information...and even fun!

See also:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. ↩︎

  2. And there you have the connection between fitness and computers! ↩︎

  3. For the full report, see this link ↩︎

  4. This is a difficulty I had when I first started using a computer. I wanted to move my mouse into a vertical plane so that it would "match" the vertical plane of the computer screen. My son was teaching me and he remembers this moment, to this day. ↩︎