Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any special computers out there designed for senior citizens? My 70-year-old mother would like to get a home computer so she can use the Internet and e-mail but she’s not computer savvy at all. —Computer Shopping Cindy
There are actually several senior-friendly options on the market that can help your mother join the computer age. Here’s what you should know.
For your mom and seniors like her who would like to get a home computer but have little or no computer experience, a SeniorPC is the best way to go. These are Hewlett-Packard (HP) computers offered through Microsoft that come equipped with simplified software that makes browsing the Web, sending e-mails, and creating letters and files about as easy as it gets. These computers also come with a variety of memory games for keeping the brain sharp, medication-management software that provides reminders of when and what medication to take, and a wide range of accessibility features that make them easier to see, hear and operate.
Priced at under $1,300, SeniorPCs are available as desktops or laptops, and each comes with an HP color printer. And for an additional cost you can get an oversized keyboard or trackball mouse that makes typing and mouse pointing easier. For more information, click here or call 888-640-1999.
Another option to consider that will let your mom access the Web and send and receive e-mails is the MSN TV 2 (www.msntv.com; 866-466-7688). This is a small box (with a wireless keyboard and remote control) that hooks up to her TV and into her existing phone line. While this system is limited to Internet and e-mail use, it is very user-friendly and costs only $200 (or you can get a refurbished unit for $150) plus a monthly service fee of $10 to $22.
If your mom doesn’t feel comfortable with the SeniorPC or MSN TV options, she can still join the e-mail world with a Celery (www.mycelery.com; 866-692-3537), which lets her receive e-mails, pictures and documents, as well as send handwritten letters as e-mails, all without a computer. It uses a color fax/printer connected to a standard phone line instead of a computer. How does it work? Sending an e-mail to a Celery is just like sending one to any other e-mail address (you choose a Celery e-mail when you signup — for example firstname.lastname@example.org). After you send your mom an e-mail, Celery calls her announcing she has a message being sent and is automatically printed out on paper. Then to reply, she simply handwrites a letter putting your name in block print at the top. She then places the letter into her Celery, pushes two buttons and the letter is sent to your e-mail address as an image document. The system uses handwriting-recognition software to match your name to an e-mail address stored in her Celery address book. And to eliminate spam, Celery only delivers messages from people you allow. The cost is $119 for the fax/printer machine and a monthly service fee of $14 or 140 per year.
Another neat device to check out is the Presto (www.presto.com; 866-428-0970). This is similar to the Celery where your mom can receive printed e-mails, photos and even newsletters without a computer, but this device doesn’t offer a way to respond, unless she does it the old fashioned way – by telephone. Presto works using a special HP printer called the Printing Mailbox which costs $150, plus a service fee that starts at $12.50 per month.
Savvy Tips: If your mom does get a computer and is interested in taking a beginner’s class, her local public library, nearby college or area aging agency (call 800-677-1116 to get the local number) are good resources to find out what’s available in her area. Also check at SeniorNet.org, a national organization for people, age 50 and older, that offers a variety of basic online computer courses as well as instructor-led workshops at 130 learning centers throughout the U.S. A first year membership fee of $40 is required.