Managing The Elderly’s Numeric Life

Photo by Matthew Bennett on Unsplash

Managing the elderly’s numeric life poses many challenges. One of them is how do you keep valuable data from being lost from one generation to the other. Here is my experience followed with many tips and advice.

I’m back from a weekend trip to my parent’s house. This is a seven hours drive. My parents are old. My father is 91 and my mother 86. They are still living alone in their apartment but they do need more and more help in order to cope with life. I’m the youngest of their children. I’m the geek one who’s in charge of their « numeric life ». This weekend trip made me realize that managing the numeric life of elderly isn’t always easy and pose many challenges.

They loved using computers

First, let me clear things up. By « numeric life » I mean everything that is computer-based or related and provides access to the internet or some kind of online services. My parents never had cell phones nor smartphones. That being said, I consider their level of computer knowledge to be above normal in their age group and comparing them to others of their generation.

When my parents were active in their professional life, they knew the value of computers and actively used them when they could to help them accomplish their duties. They learned how to use Mac and Windows computers because of me. My father was more into the Mac in the early days because as an architect it was more useful for him but my mother always worked on Windows PCs. In recent years, PC usage severely declined as they started to used an iPad and because they are less and less able to understand computer stuff. 

As of this writing, they both have Windows computers in the office room but they are no longer used. The iPad helps them stay connected with us and the world. One of the tasks that I had this weekend was to backup all the data from their computers and put it somewhere where we, the children, can have access to in case we need it. And this is where the challenges started to pop up.

Many problems to tackles

There are five problems that I see happening in managing elderly’s numeric life. First, they can easily get kicked out of using an only service. Second, they lose sight of their online presence. Third, extracting data from their old PCs can be challenging. Fourth, it will be hard to close all their online accounts when they pass away. And finally, social engineering can have dire consequence on their life if they don’t pay attention. Let’s dig deeper into each of these problems. 

Elderly makes more mistakes so they get kicked out easily

My father had is banking account’s access card disabled a few times recently. The reason? During a visit to the pharmacy, he was trying to pay the bill to the cashier with the wrong PIN number. Eventually, after too many retries, the card was disabled by the bank for obvious security reasons. Now what? What can we do when this happens? Fortunately he had enough cash on him to pay.  

Managing their online presence is hard

We think we know our parents until we find about their usage of online accounts services like Twitter and Dropbox . I didn’t know my father used these services in the past. It was a long time ago when he could still understand computer stuff. This is no longer the case. How do we know which accounts will need to be securely closed? What kind of data is in there, is it of any value? How do I recover that before closing these accounts?

Continuity of access to accumulated data is tricky

My mother had a Windows XP based PC on which she was reading and writing her emails with Outlook Express. Obviously it is no longer supported by Microsoft. Now she wants me to move her stuff to my father’s PC running Windows 10. She’d like to do some cleanup there as she wants to simplify his life. Easier said than done. Outlook Express is no longer supported. Migrating email database to Windows 10 is not easy as I need to convert files from one format to another with a version of Windows that I no longer have access to.

Taking over their numeric life will be challenging

Both of my parents have a Facebook account but are not very active. I’m not sure they designated someone to take over when they pass away. As you probably know, most of online services can’t be easily transferred to the survivors. Apple is a good example of this. How can I get access to someone else data in iCloud if he or she passes away? A few decades ago, when people died, they left behind papers and photo albums and other physical souvenirs. But these days, so many memories are in our devices and cloud services. This really becomes an issue for our family memories. 

They are the targeted people of spammers

Elderly people can be very insecure about many things. Social engineering tricks employed by spammers can be very effective on them. They know they can trigger the finance button by writing an email that they can lose all their assets if they don’t act now. How can we help them not fall in these traps?

A sunset picture from the window of my parent’s apartment. They are at the sunset of their life but their « numeric life » will stay behind them.

Is there any tips or tricks to help ease these situations?

These situations may be challenging even for an IT guy like me. More challenging is to cope with the lost of intellectual abilities from my parents. But there are many tips or tricks that could help ease the pain. Here is a list of things that you can and should do.

  • Talk to your parents about these issues. One problem at a time.
  • Explain what is social engineering and explain to them that banks never get in touch with them by email for security issues. 
  • Ask them about their online presence and build a complete list with their user id and passwords if they remember them. If they can’t try recovering them from the online service with « forgot username » or « forgot password ». 
  • Confirm which recovery email they used with the online service. GMail is an example of online service which allow the use of a recovery email address. Consider changing the email to one of yours. 
  • Close any online services they no longer use while making sure you download any valuable data. Do this with them, not behind their back. Be transparent. Explain why this is a good idea. 
  • Sit with your parents in front of their computers and ask them about what documents are important and should be kept after they pass away.
  • Don’t change too many things at once on their devices if you need to make changes. A simple change can be a mountain for them. 
  • If possible, ask them to write down every online account they have with their username, password, recovery email when available. I know, this is not a secure practice to write down passwords. But older people forget things and passwords are one of them. 

As your parents get older, they will lose abilities and if they were using some or many online services, challenges will arise. Take the time to assess the situation and see where you can help. 

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