Email for the Elderly

By Deane Barker on October 27, 2008

I got an email today, with a question that intrigues me. I’d like to help this person out, and I’m curious about what options are available for this situation. Can anyone offer any perspective?

I am searching for an email system for my grandmother. She used to have a Mail Station from Earthlink, but they have stopped making and using them. She currently is using a laptop and hates it. It is very advanced compared to what she was used to. Is there anything out there that you know of that could be of assistance to her? She is in her 80’s but loves keeping in touch with the family through email. I hope you have some type of suggestion. She is miserable.

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  1. I pasted the url for this post to a friend who I figured would have an answer. He suggests a netbook and a Gmail account, adding that his aunt successfully uses that solution. Sounds like a good (and cost effective) solution to me.

  2. 2 solutions that are obvious…

    1. Have Deane move-in as the newly adopted techie grandson
    2. See #1 or find a local Deane

    Seriously though, and I know Deane will hate this…why not go to a standard version of Outlook – yes pay for it if needed. Outlook easily pulls the email for you, you reply, store, etc…heck my mom uses it (62 yrs old with no tech experience whatsoever) so it cant get much easier. Personally have not used Outlook in 5 years but I am sure the product is still amazing – now I am ready to be banned.

  3. If ALL she wants is email, it shouldn’t be that hard to just make the GUI shell a perfered email program (Thunderbird?) or even the web browser (together now: Firefox?) on a linux system. I love the suggestion of a netbook for this too. Get one with a SSD, change the shell to either one of the above options and couldn’t be simpler for her:

    1. Boot
    2. Email people
    3. There is no step 3.
  4. In The Netherlands we have a really nice solution:

    This company sells a fully locked down, Linux and flash memory based, remotely managed PC. You buy it in combination with a help/update/internet subscription.

    It has a very basic interface, allows you to do everything you need to: web, mail, write letter, look/manage photographs.

    I keep wondering when this concept goes global. I’m afraid the website is Dutch only, but you get the point :-)

  5. Hi Deane;

    A company out here, Landel, has been offering an appliance for the last 10 years. Can’t vouch for it, never tried it… It’s called the mailbug It’s not free but it ain’t expensive either.

    Short of that, it seems to me that the best way would be to administer the laptop such that it only shows gmail. At that point, teach gramma the ropes or modify the gmail interface to taste.

    hth, -Craig

  6. My Mom was using Outlook Express and loved it. Then she got a new laptop and we moved her over to Gmail. I thought it would actually be so much easier for her and that she would have better access from various places. It works…but she doesn’t love it. She tells me there are too many “steps” in Gmail. So I am also interested in the suggested solutions here.

  7. There is the Presto. I gave one to my father a year ago for xmas. It is a printer that connects to your phone line. It calls out to the Presto mail servers 4 times a day, and then prints out any email you recieved.

    Only issue is that you can’t send email, only recieve. But it works great for pictures, legal documents, news stories, prints out all attachments.


  8. Many of these comments above don’t take into account the over 80 crowd. many people – particularly when their memory and cognitive function start to decline a bit – can’t handle any of the solutions mentioned. Outlook, thunderbird, gmail are all incredibly complicated (and the buttons and text way too small, not well designed) for the elderly. Peek I looked at – you must be kidding. Small keys for the elderly?
    It must be incredibly simple and big buttons and big type. No one has that approach yet. I have looked at pawpaw mail and it looks like the right approach. Mike

  9. PawPawMail and Famililink look like good possibilities for those with good Internet connections. I’m looking for something for my aunt who, alas, has only dial-up available. A nice, full-screen interface, locked down to accept e-mail only from a managed list, a good way to view image attachments, but offline capability, ideally with automatic scheduled dial-up sync.

  10. This is newer, but you might want to check out SunnyGram.

    They print and mail emails. I use it with two grandmothers and they don’t see a computer, just pictures and news.

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