Special Feature

Serving seniors

Making core changes to your practice; working with elderly clients' families; dealing with mental capacity; seniors and technology; and more from the Mid-February 2015 issue of Investment Executive newspaper.

Tech Tips: There are several ways that standard personal computers can be adapted to provide special support for seniors who are less comfortable with technology. These options can help your senior clients - and you - deal effectively with their financial affairs

By Danny Bradbury | Mid-February 2015

As a tech-savvy financial advisor, you may feel at home with technology, but your older clients may not. So, with retiree clients still needing regular contact with you for portfolio rebalancing and asset allocation, you will need to deal with the reality that a surprising number of seniors are not online.

In fact, an April 2014 study from Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, entitled Older Adults and Technology Use and which sampled slightly more than 1,500 Americans over age 65, found that 41% of seniors don't use the Internet at all. That's going to make reaching them more difficult, especially if you're the kind of advisor who likes using emails and blog posts to remind people that you're available.

Here are some tips to help you, and your senior-aged clients, negotiate the digital terrain that they may find daunting:

- Ease of access

When older people do get online, they face all kinds of challenges, mostly related to accessibility. The challenge takes two main forms: physical and mental.

Pew's research found that two in five seniors have a physical health condition that makes reading difficult or some disability that prevents them from fully participating in many daily activities.

Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system has several accessibility features built in. Version 8 has an "Ease of Access Centre," which provides quick access to common tools. These tools include a magnifier, which can increase the size of text on the screen, and a high-contrast option to help with visibility. There also is a "narrator" function, which can read text aloud. Other features include adjustable mouse settings that can make the cursor easier to see.

- Managing passwords

For many clients, computer software can present a bewildering array of mental challenges, with a complex array of choices and tasks, all demanding attention. Assuming for a minute that a senior client has a handle on the basic interface, one of his or her biggest obstacles may be password management.

Elderly clients will feel safer and more organized using a password manager such as RoboForm or LastPass, each of which keeps track of passwords and fills them in automatically where needed.

- Simplified software

In some cases, however, another layer of software may be necessary to make computers even easier to use, and there are several options.

Some focus on specific functions. PawPawMail (http://pawpawmail.com) is an email system designed for the elderly, with nothing to install. Accessible online, it features just three main buttons - "read mail," "send mail" and "view photos" - along with "help" and "quit" buttons. A separate managing interface enables a relative or caregiver to administer the account while hiding technical details from the user.

Eldy (www.eldy.eu) is a free software tool designed to simplify computer use for older people. This software uses "the square," a single screen with several large buttons that represent key functions such as email, web surfing and chat.

Another option is PointerWare (www.pointerware.com), which offers four simple options: email, Internet, games and photos. Users get automated visual and audio alerts when emails arrive; the system will read emails aloud when they arrive. Users can select their contacts using their pictures via a touch screen, and if users don't want to type, they can send voice mails as email attachments.

- Putting seniors on lockdown

For those senior clients who want to keep their computer more functional, there are options to keep the preferred Windows interface accessible and simply lock down areas of the computer that your clients won't need. Various software applications exist to do this.

Inteset Secure Lockdown (www.inteset.com), for example, costs US$19.95 and is a Windows-based system designed to disable a variety of actions, including right-button clicks on a mouse and various keystrokes.

The flip side of locking down key functions is that doing so makes other functions easier to carry out. Any advisor who has had to walk an elderly parent through a series of actions online will know how frustrating that can be for all involved. An option is to create a short computer script that will carry out the desired action with a single keystroke.

AutoHotkey (www.autohotkey.com), for example, can be used to get a computer from the startup screen to a Skype call to a specific individual in one keystroke. This software is free. AutoHotkey needs a tech-savvy person to write the scripts. If someone is going to do that, he or she also may want to access the senior's computer remotely, in order to make changes and maintain the programming on the senior's behalf. Software such as like LogMeIn (www.logmein.com) can be installed on one Mac or PC so that another user with the correct security credentials can access it.

- Different computers

For some seniors, a touch screen can be a useful way to simplify computing, especially if combined with a custom interface. This may require a whole new machine. However, there are several devices designed with the elderly in mind.

Telikin (www.telikin.com), for example, is an all-in-one touch-screen computer, available in 18- or 22-inch formats, with an interface that brings the functions that a senior would want onto one screen.

A competitor with a mouse-based product is myGait Elite (www.mygait.com), which features colour-coded keys to simplify some functions. This device also has a support service with personalized help online or over the phone.

- Tablet computing

The idea of a dedicated device, rather than a typical PC with layered software, might send your senior clients in another direction altogether: a tablet computer rather than a conventional PC. Aside from price, tablets have many of the advantages of dedicated PC units, including the ability to shield users from the vagaries of folders and files.

Even in the tablet world, there are senior-specific options, although the level of customization needed is lower, because tablets start out pretty user-friendly. The In-Touch Senior Tablet (http://seniortouchpad.com), for example, effectively is an Android tablet with extraneous apps removed.

The Claris Companion (www.clariscompanion.com) is a far more customized device made for older seniors. This device includes more tailored features, including everything from medication reminders to a check-in button that tells family members the user is OK. There also is a "call me" button so a senior user can reach out to busy family members quickly and easily. This device, which can be remotely administered by a family member, looks like a winner.

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