The Techie Caregiver Conundrum: Support, Training, and Growth

The Techie Caregiver Scenario

You are in your mid-forties, a busy, still employed, computing professional. Family members need your help to maintain their independence and life styles.

Dad recently retired and is bummed out because an elbow injury limits his golf rounds. As a former executive, he’s not really comfortable with computers, keyboards, and Internet dependence (think John Mc Cain). Dad also has a hearing problem in certain frequencies in addition to his sore elbow.

Grandma is a spry octogenarian but her ten year old PC cannot keep up with book club planning, PDF newsletters, and You Tube entertainment. She is developing macular degeneration, with increasing difficulty reading books, newspapers, and the never-ending stream of forms required for transactions, such as banking and insurance.

You, by the way, are in the 5% of the population with significant color blindness that alters your perceptions of web pages and applications displayed on screens.

The Caregiver’s Problems

Besides being a dutiful child, you recognize the long run benefits to all family members of keeping Dad and Grandma independent, happy, and healthy. So, it’s time to think through the situation and do some planning.

It looks like you will have several roles:

  • Tech Support for buying, setting up, and maintaining computers, networks, and phones
  • Trainer on new hardware, software, and business practices
  • Tour guide to show Dad and Grandma the web services, entertainment sites, information sources, and spy ware dangers.
  • Advocate when an extra 0 goes into a credit card payment, a service charge shows up,, insurance change forms get lost, etc.

Groan, this could be really time consuming and cause family friction. What to do?

  1. Where do you learn the technology options for your family needs? Your practices don’t seem appropriate for their specific challenges?
  2. Where can you get support for yourself when times get frustrating? How do you develop the attitude for helping without anybody seeming burdened?
  3. How can you bring some professional growth for yourself? Where do you learn about so-called assistive technologies, accessibility practices, and technology trends that meld generational differences with your company’s product lines?
  4. Hey, there must be some business opportunities here since your family elders are typical consumers with social needs that match the national costs of health care, citizen involvement, lifelong learning, and longer active life spans.

Fast forward a few months

Ok, Dad and Grandma have new, remarkably affordable notebooks, home wireless, and a bunch of web service accounts. But there have been several surprises:

  1. Dad cannot adjust to the notebook keyboard, and refuses to use the typing tutor you bought.
  2. Grandma loves using high contrast black displays that complicate your explanations over the phone, since you see even more differently than the color blindness you’re used to.
  3. Dad likes his mp3 player but cannot get the hang of transferring files, sync, and storage limits.
  4. Grandma learned about a handheld thing called Victor Reader something that will read books to her now that she has overcome Synthetic Voice shock.

    Follow up on this scenario: helping the caregiver

    In a couple of months, I’ll post a list of services, tips, etc. and welcome suggestions to

    Thought Provoker community inspires me to try a similar challenge for computing communities. Especially with disabilities and seniors on the Obama agenda this is one way to accept responsibility and generate interest in problem solving. I am willing to nag the computing professions to overcome their thoughtlessness and ignorance of relevant technologies and practices, as I was in that attitude and knowledge state myself recently enough to remember and cringe. Also, I’ve had to deal with caregiver issues in my own family, friends, and physical circles. I would appreciate any help in bring Caregiver Assistance into the open and make pragmatic progress.

    Author: slger

    Susan L. Gerhart (slger) is a retired computer scientist. Her professional specialities included software engineering research, technology transfer management, and computer science education, see SLGer's Research Autobiography. Susan is active in a lifelong learning institute (OLLI) at Yavapai College in Prescott Arizona. She has facilitated courses on podcasts, Twitter, the Singularity, and climate fiction. "As Your World Changes" blog describes her journey with vision loss into the spectacular world of assistive technology and the frustrating practices of accessibility. She writes with the NVDA screen reader, reads books from Bookshare on a BookSense, and listens to podcasts on an iPhone. slger123 on Twitter records her favorite articles and occasional comments on life and politics. Creative writing courses led her to undertake "A Chip On Her Shoulder", a novel asking the questions: "how did we get into the privacy mess of modern social media?" and "Are we now just 'packets of data formerly known as people'?" She's enduring the 2020 Pandemic era and autocracy challenge by analyzing changes in progress, promising, and unknown. Times sure are changing! Contact: slger123 at

5 thoughts on “The Techie Caregiver Conundrum: Support, Training, and Growth”

  1. Phew … remembered the password!

    I can see a certain level of parellels here … though in my case it’s a bit different:

    I’m in my 40s, but it’s Dad that’s the Octogenarian … he’s someone who did use a Word Processor (Amstrad PCW8512 for those with long memories!) – and now has my old PC. He uses it for minutes, sending emails, thinks that he ought to learn about this “www” stuff, though finds it generally easier to ask my sister (who lives in same village) / her sons (10/14) to find things for him – and to do the basic trouble shooting.

    I get called in when they can’t cope … and it’s difficult as I can’t always diagnose over the phone what the problem is. (e.g. there was a big problem when he “lost the paperclip” in email. Turned out he’d got the edit window non-maximised, so the icon was off the right hand end), but it took a bit of figuring…

    I can’t see him ever really being that motivated to really use email for anything other than the committees he’s on – he’d rather phone me or go & see his friends. (They have quite an active social life down there in the country!)

    He is starting to forget things, so it’s a case of working out what he wants to do; and doing that, rather than “it would be nice if you could” … because I’d have to find a really good reason to convince him it would be useful.

  2. I would definitely be interested in this kind of thing. I recently had a similar experience with my dad, and trying to help him on his computer, without a screen reader was interesting to say the least. I think he at least got ITunes figured out, but not the Amazon mp3 downloader… smile.

  3. Here are some video scenarios describing situations of generational attention to computing problems.

    From Digital Inclusive Network (U.K.), research project,

    On Youtube

    Thankfully, there are transcripts of some videos for those of us accent-challenged with Scottish dialects. However, the PDF format has some extra burden — could the transcripts be rendered in HTML?

    I appreciate the steady stream of good links via twitter from

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