Senior computers: not so many winners. Over the past few years, several attempts at creating a “senior” computer have been made, including a pricey senior PC partnership between HP and Microsoft and the thin-client GO Computer from MyGait (sold through FirstSTREET), which is not extensible—what you get is what you get, and as a few frustrated comments on the blog post indicate, it's not to everyone's liking when it is time to add devices or additional software.
Senior-oriented software overlays. Assuming that you have already purchased a computer, a number of vendors, including PointerWare (Windows XP) and InTouchLink (Web-only, Windows and MAC), have been out and about the past few years with software to make overly complex computer interfaces more accessible to seniors. If there is no computer available already, no one to download software, or if other constraints exist, maybe not—although both these tools as well as ConnectedLiving and IN2L might be great for senior housing organizations that have activity coordinators—champions and trainers.
The iPad is interesting, but not necessarily for seniors. Although I enjoyed the video and the fabulous marketing (how many devices have been introduced as “magical”?), the swipe and pinch, the hold it on your lap, etc., the no-easy-add-ons aspects of the iPad make it interesting as an additional device for folks who already have one of everything, but not as a standalone computer, as verified in this AARP iPad note. For those hoping to introduce computers to older, perhaps computer-phobic seniors, the iPad is not a sure winner.
Here's another small vendor: A-Plus Senior Computer. Offered by Computer Tutor Plus, Windows 7 enabled this tiny Hollywood, Florida, services company to provide a very tailored Dell Laptop (games, email, Google) for $699 (the GO Computer is $879 plus $19.95/month to access the service from MyGait), including a printed training manual and a month of support.
From A-Plus Senior Computer exec Dale Dion: "There are only three icons: for games, email, and Google. We turn off all messages so there are no pop-ups or questions for them to answer. We make over 40 "adjustments" to the computer so that it's extremely easy for seniors to use. It is a fully functioning computer, so as they progress, there are no limits on what they can do on the computer. Our initial setup is with just three icons: Solitaire, so if they are new to a computer they can get comfortable with the mouse; simple email (via Gmail); and an icon to go directly to Google. We include a 47-page illustrated manual that has a 10-step lesson plan so they can, one step at a time, become comfortable with the computer. Lesson one is turning the computer on and off, just to give you an example of how basic we get. Finally, we offer our own phone/remote connection service, so if they have an issue, or just a question on how to do something, we can easily connect with their computer and help them."
Computers for seniors: let's see some more vendors. Not included, of course, is the Internet service, suggested from phone or cable company. Hopefully, in the month of initial support, prospective users are walked through that process, which can be its own nightmare. But unlike the GO Computer, there is no monthly service fee, though in both cases, there is a money-back guarantee. If you have further experience with the GO Computer, or if you try out the A-Plus Senior Computer, please comment and let others know about it. And if you are familiar with another product, this is a great place to post.
By Laurie Orlov
Aging in Place Technology Watch Blog
[First posted June 24, 2010, at Laurie's Aging in Place Technology Watch Web site.]