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What to do when older people struggle with TV, internet or digital technology

Q. My husband is becoming more forgetful and is having problems managing his computer and even the TV remote. I worry he may compromise our security. I wish I could do something about his frustration. What do we know about such problems? Any advice for caregivers? S.M.

Thank you for drawing our attention to this issue. We have two colliding phenomena. Among those age 65 and older, 75 percent use the internet, according to a 2022 report from the Pew Research Center. Add to that 10 percent of U.S. adults age 65 and older have dementia and 22 percent have mild cognitive impairment. Together we have a significant and growing number of older-adult internet users who are at risk, partially because of age, with some form of cognitive impairment. It’s likely that more families will be facing these concerns as we are increasingly reliant on our devices.

Physicians are paying attention to the reality of the digital age. The following are some examples:

Dr. Robert Zorowitz, senior medical director for health-services company Optum notes in a 2019 Washington Post piece that computer skills may deteriorate before classic signs of dementia such as confusion and memory problems. Quoted in the Washington Post piece as well as one by Judith Graham of the Kaiser Foundation, Dr. Neelum Aggarwal, neurologist at Rush University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago, tries to identify the underlying problem in using the computer which might be vision, coordination, language, completing steps for a transaction or a compromised memory. Aggarwal says that older adults often bring up problems with technology as a “non-threatening way to talk about trouble with thinking.’”

The concern is not only about computers – but for all digital devices. Dr. Douglas Scharre, professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center provides several tips for managing technology for those with cognitive impairment. Here are a few of the problems with some partial remedies.

  1. Problem with phone numbers. Simplify the technology. For example, buy a landline phone that can be pre-programmed to call family or friends with the press of one button, instead of having to complete steps in locating the name and number. Some of these phones also have larger numbers which are easier to use.

  2. Paying bills. Consider taking over those tasks that require use of the internet which likely will reduce some frustration. Another option is to make bill paying a joint effort; do it together.

  3. Too many emails. Change the email address. That will prevent businesses and other contacts from asking for donations and other requests. It also will eliminate looking at 100 emails every morning.

  4. Having access to funds. Limit that access. If it is legal and allowable, place limits or block access to sending or withdrawing money. Eliminate credit cards or use debit cards with limits.

  5. Forgetting passwords. If the passwords are not dangerous for others to use, make a list and place them somewhere that is easy to remember.

Consider a few more tips. If the number of apps on an iPhone are too confusing, eliminate them. Unsubscribe accounts that send emails. If needed, remove friends from Facebook accounts, although Facebook may be an important way to stay connected to family and friends. One also can install a parental control on a cellphone that would prevent making calls between certain hours. The television problem has no easy solution. Consider helping your husband when he needs it.

Financial fraud also can be a worry. True Link Visa card is designed to prevent such fraud. It is a reloadable prepaid Visa card designed to help older adults be financially independent in making simple transactions such as purchases or withdrawals. It can block spending categories such “allow grocery stores” and block “the casinos” and can prevent or allow purchases at certain stores. Cardholders can use it wherever Visa is accepted. The card can be customized and spending can be limited and monitored. Note it was launched when the founder’s grandmother who suffered from dementia lost $40,000 of her savings through a credit card scam.

Thank you S.M. for your important question. Hopefully, some of these tips will reduce the frustration that your husband is experiencing with the computer and possibly other devices. Technology is our friend. Knowing how to effectively manage that friendship particularly with a loved one with memory problems is a challenge. Stay well and know kindness is everything.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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