11 Practical Tools to Make the Internet Easier for Senior Citizens

Living an independent and self-determined life is as important for seniors as it is for younger people. Nowadays, the Internet is often the only way to communicate with family members who live further away or overseas and only Facebook gives a little window to see what the grandchildren are up to. In times of a global pandemic even more so. The Internet can be a valuable tool for the elderly, if made more accessible.

Unfortunately, it's been mostly designed and built by the younger generations and thereby often harder to use once retirement is a daily topic. Specifically, many age-related health issues such as reduced eyesight and memory issues make it more difficult to use the Internet after a certain age. How often have you been called to help to get back on a website?

It doesn't matter if it's yourself or your grandparents who reached the golden years, the Internet might be more challenging either way. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel: Computers and especially browsers are very flexible and extendable. You can configure "the Internet" to your grandparents' needs.

Any of the extensions below - with the notable exception of the paywall extension - can be installed by visiting the links. To remove them click on "..." -> "More Tools" -> "Extensions" or simply type "about:extensions" into the address bar and remove the extension with one click on "Remove".

#1 Cleaning up internet sites for readability

Many websites are bloated with unrelated information and services. Younger people grew up with this and filter it out in their mind easily. For elderly users, the clutter becomes pretty confusing fast. Cleaning up websites and focusing on the actual content to increase usability can do a lot for our seniors. There are two great extensions for this job:

Oswald was built especially with seniors in mind. It's an extension to remove the clutter of websites and display only the relevant content. An alternative to Oswald could be "Just Read" (available for Chrome and Firefox). It's following the same goal and could be an alternative if Oswald isn't what you are looking for.

#2 Making things print-friendly

We might use bookmarks or simply download a copy of a document. For senior citizens having something in your hands is the only real way to keep something. Unfortunately, websites are often not very print-friendly. This can be improved using the print-friendly extension. It allows you to switch to the print-mode easily.

#3 Getting started right with a useful new tab

You might be happy starting at Google's Homepage, but for your grandma, a page with some more information or direct links might be a better starting point. Speed dial 2 is a simple new-tab extension you can customize. Set it to show big links with icons to make sure she finds her way around the web easier. This avoids typing which is more challenging for seniors. Alternatively, the current and upcoming weather might be of interest to plan ahead.

#4 Zoom Extension

With increasing age, eyesight suffers often. This doesn't need to hold your grandparents back from using the internet. The digital version of a magnifying glass can be installed with a few clicks only. Suitable extensions are available for Chrome and Firefox of course. This extension is also available for Internet Explorer Edge and Safari, in case you need to cover these systems. If this one doesn't make your grandparents happy there is an alternative called "Magnifying Glass" for Chrome and Firefox.

#5 Getting content read to you instead of reading it yourself

If the eyesight is becoming too much a problem, internet usage can become a real challenge. In some cases, not even a zoom can help much anymore and an alternative solution needs to be found. Read Aloud might be this solution. It's an extension which reads out whole websites or select content over the speaker. Keyboard shortcuts should make it possible to use the internet even without much eyesight left. The cloud computing usage isn't free but comes with a number of upsides such as free choice of language, accent, pitch, reading speed, etc. Definitely worth it if your grandparents have strong difficulties reading (small) texts.

#5 Ad-blockers

Besides websites being bloated with unnecessary information, they also contain too many ads. Browsing the web without an ad-blocker is not recommended, even less for seniors who might not spot the difference between an ad and regular content as quickly as you and me. Common choices are Adblock Plus (for Chrome or Firefox) or the more lightweight uBlock Origin (Chrome or Firefox).

If your grandma or grandpa have got into YouTube, you might want to consider releasing them from the ads there as well. There are YouTube ad-blocker extensions for Chrome and Firefox as well.

#6 Dealing with pay-walls all around the internet

After you set up an ad-blocker you will encounter even more paywalls around the Internet. These are plain annoying and, for elder citizens, confusing on top. Google has removed the extension from its webstore to stay in favor with newspaper and publishing companies on the Internet. This being said, it's still possible to remove paywalls on many websites. It just got a little more difficult.

Bypass-paywalls is an extension allowing you to do exactly this. You have to jump through a few hoops to get it installed though. The steps are described in the installation section if you still want to give it a try.

#7 Manage access with a password manager and social login reminder

With higher age, remembering email addresses and passwords becomes more challenging. A password manager like LastPass or DashLane can help here. It stores login credentials easily and safely. If your grandpa got used to using the easier path to sign-up with Facebook and others, you should check Which Login. An extension to make sure he still remembers which social login he used after a while.

#8 Report suspicious website

With data leaks and phishing, security is very important. This is especially the case for senior citizens who are more often targeted than younger users. Google has developed the "Suspicious Site Reporter" to highlight any risks to Google before something happens. This provides a great way to "get a website looked at" without bothering anything directly.

#9 Block undesired permission request

It appears as though it's common practice for some websites to ask for extended permissions on the very first visit. These permissions are mostly for so-called push notifications and aimed at marketing their site more. These requests can be blocked using an extension called "Ask Blocker". It blocks any permission requests at the first load of a website. Manually triggered requests are still allowed as usual. It's available for Chrome and Firefox.

#10 "Computer, remind me please"

We've all noticed the little memory issues sneaking in with getting older. Sometimes a little reminder can do wonders to help in daily life. You can easily set reminders in your browser using the Remind Me extension for Chrome. Both make sure no medication or appointments will be forgotten as easily as before.

#11 Avoid websites playing music in the background

Too many websites still decide that it's fine to play sounds in the background. With Smart Mute (for Chrome and Firefox) you can avoid this completely. By default, it mutes tabs which aren't active at the moment. This way, no forgotten tab or video playing in the background will confuse anymore.

Closing words

No software alone can solve the problems seniors face using the Internet. But a good tool with guidance can do little wonders. The internet opens up new ways of social participation for the elderly. All it takes is more patience and a curated selection of tools to help with it. A few afternoons helping out with the computer, explaining things and you might be set to have many issues resolved for good.

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