Seven tips for choosing senior-friendly software

There’s a pervasive notion that older people can’t, or don’t want to, use computers.  Facebook fan pages, the Lifestyle section of many newspapers and guests at cocktail parties can all be counted on for stories of a senior messing up online. The reality, however, isn’t so clear-cut.

Seniors do many things online

Given the opportunity, seniors can and do use computer technology in much the same way as their younger counterparts.  A 2004 study, for example, found that older US Web users do product research (66%), purchase goods (47%), make travel reservations (41%), visit government Web sites (100%), look up religious and spiritual information (26%) and do online banking (20%).

It can be difficult for seniors to get online

What does set older and younger computer users apart is their ability to get online.  Seniors are much more likely to be grappling with things like vision loss, hearing loss, cognitive impairment and diminished motor skills, all of which create barriers to getting online.  And if you think not being connected is an unfortunate yet benign state of affairs, think again.

Connected seniors are healthier

Connected seniors are healthier and happier than their non-Internet using counterparts.  The evidence is compelling.  Those who connect with family, friends and the wider community via email and the Internet are less likely to suffer from depression.  Age-related dementia can be slowed, and possibly reversed, when seniors take advantage of computer-based brain-fitness games.  And some studies suggest that those who take advantage of what the Internet has to offer are able to stay independent longer.

Fortunately, vendors are beginning to respond to seniors’ needs when it comes to computer software.  Here’s what to keep in mind when evaluating software for seniors.

Karen Hamilton is a freelance writer and a blogger at

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