Tech Tips: 10 Tips for Teaching Technology to Seniors

Christopher Leech is Manager of Resident Technology & Innovation. Here he gives some tips on how to help the older adults in your life use technology. 

Senior friends looking at an iPad

“Can you teach my mom?”

That’s the first thing people ask me after I tell them I develop programs that teach seniors technology at Brookdale Senior Living.  In today’s increasingly digital world, many visits with parents or grandparents are punctuated with questions about technology. I was reminded of this just last week when visiting my own grandmother at a Brookdale community in California. After spending nearly an hour searching for her current Gmail and Apple ID passwords, we realized that my grandmother’s iPad wasn’t even connected to WiFi!

You’ve likely been through a similar routine if you have a new tech inquisitive senior in your life. Before your next visit, consider arming yourself with the following 10 tips for teaching technology to seniors.

When introducing new tech concepts, build on existing knowledge. 

Comparing a new technology concept with something the senior is already familiar with will make it easier for them to understand. When we introduce web browsing in Brookdale’s tech programming, we compare web addresses to street addresses. This helps reinforce the idea of web navigation in a way that is intuitive to our residents because they can think of it like navigating a row of buildings.

Explain the relevance before going into detail. 

Before launching into the mechanics of how to use today’s trending gadget, explain how the senior might benefit from using it. If you’re introducing someone to Facebook, start by showing them pictures of their grandchildren they might not have seen. Once they see how easily accessible the pictures are, they’ll be more patient with the process of setting up an account and exploring their newsfeed.

Avoid technical words and use consistent language. 

Now that words like emoji and selfie have been added to Oxford Dictionary’s lexicon, tech speak is becoming a part of everyday language. As you talk tech with seniors, be mindful of the words you use. Many tech-related terms may be unfamiliar to them. When there are multiple terms that can be used to describe something, choose the simplest option and be consistent.

Watch your pace. 

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to remind yourself not to move too quickly when introducing a senior to technology. Pause between each step to give them a moment to process what they’ve just learned. If you’re not sure whether or not you are moving too quickly, ask the senior how they are feeling about the pace.

Repeat key concepts. 

The sheer volume of new information they are taking in can easily overwhelm seniors learning technology for the first time. Repeating key concepts will make them easier to remember and will reinforce the most important takeaways.

Build in regular time to ask questions. 

Be sure to build in regular time for questions before moving to new concepts. Some seniors may be reticent to interject with a question. Providing a specific moment where questions are expected may help make them feel more comfortable. It will also give you an idea of what concepts you need to spend extra time on.

Let the resident actively practice the new tech skills. 

When watching a senior struggle to navigate on their device it may be tempting to take matters into your own hands, but the time saved in the short term will not yield good learning results. Seniors need to take an active role as they learn new technology so they can become accustomed to the tactile nuances involved in tapping, clicking and button pressing.

Direct them to senior specific tech resources.  

Encourage the senior to utilize tech resources for seniors between your visits. If they live in a Brookdale community, speak with the Resident Programs Leader and ask about Broodale’s iPad Program and any other regularly scheduled tech activities. Be sure they know how to access resources available online such as TechBoomers and AARPTek which offer excellent free tech tutorials designed specifically for seniors.

Validate expressions of confusion, but reinforce that they can and will learn. 

Seniors are used to being more knowledgeable and competent at most of their endeavors by virtue of the fact that they have more life experience. It may have been years since they were a novice at something, so when they express frustration, be sure to validate the difficulty of learning technology for the first time. Reinforce that learning something new is always hard but that with practice they will advance. It may also help to share any difficulties or confusion you’ve experienced when learning technology in the past.

Seek out "Wow!" moments. 

For everyday technology users, it’s easy to forget just how amazing technology really is. Be sure to create opportunities for technology to wow the senior, like showing them their childhood home on Google Earth or FaceTiming with a close friend they haven’t seen in years. The more they see the incredible things technology enables them to do, the more they will engage with it which will make mastering it a breeze.

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