This Christmas, a computer's a great gift for senior citizens

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Posted: Monday, December 23, 2013 12:00 am

For senior citizens who have all the basics, how about a last-minute Christmas gift that will enable them to better manage their lives and keep in touch with the family?

Buy a simple computer and provide the lessons to use it. In fact, you might be able to kill two birds with one stone — using the gift to help two generations in the family. If a grandchild can provide lessons, the grandparent could pay for the training by putting money into a Roth individual retirement account for the child.

Say that Grandma pays $3,000 for computer lessons from her 14-year-old grandson. If she helps the boy deposit the $3,000 in a Roth IRA and invests it in a fund such as the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund, the child could have more than $400,000 by the time he retires. Based on a one-time investment of just $3,000, he will be on his way to a cozy future if the fund averages 10 percent a year. That's been the historical average over the last 87 years.

A computer and patient training are also likely to help Grandma enhance her future. Increasingly, functioning without one is difficult.

“One of the biggest challenges for people 65 and over is that half aren't online,” said Terry Bradwell, executive vice president of AARP. Only one in three people older than 75 are online. “And they could take advantage of a computer and have a better life. You can't rent a movie anymore without going online.”

Convincing some that a computer will ease their life might be a tough sell. But as senior citizens age and are tied more closely to their homes, or become unable to drive, computers “can combat isolation,” he said. Senior citizens can use them to talk with family members via Skype without leaving home or spending a penny.

And getting tasks done is becoming increasingly difficult for people who are not equipped with an understanding of the technological world.

Senior citizens might like to do their banking in person with a teller, but that form of banking is fading. Even those who use the telephone for their banking must jump over technological hurdles like pressing this number and that to run through a maze of computer instructions.

Yet with a little computer practice, a person can go online and find CD rates that are typically better than the bank down the road. For example, Bankrate.com recently was showing a five-year CD at Pentagon Federal Credit Union with a 3.04 percent interest rate. Many banks are offering less than 1.7 percent.

Other savings are available online for common purchases like airline tickets.

If senior citizens can't drive and family members are out of town, they can order everything from groceries to discounted medicine online and have them mailed to their door.

If grandchildren offer lessons, make sure they remember that their terminology will be a foreign language to a novice.

To entice a person to learn, show them on your computer or tablet how you can pull the statement up from your bank — even in the middle of a worrisome night — to see numbers they might not see until a paper statement arrives in the mail.

The experience with the computer is best when Grandma is still sharp. Following multiple steps as people age can become overwhelming, so starting before any cognitive decline is a good move.

When choosing a computer, be aware of eyesight and hand dexterity problems, and look for devices that are simple to use.

One computer that technology reviewers have recommended for senior citizens is the Telikin. It has a touch screen that lists large blue labels down the left side. Simple labels like “Email” or “Photos” or “Web” help senior citizens go directly to what they want. Some reviewers have noted technological glitches in the past, while others say recent models have been improved.

Bradwell suggests tablets, although the screens are small and the devices can lack word-processing software — leaving senior citizens unable to write a business letter that must be mailed.

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