Setting Up an iPad for an Elderly Parent

by Michael on Jun 26, 2013 · 3 comments

Photo of iPad in Hands

As I mentioned the other day, we’re on the road visiting family. During this trip, I’ve been setting my mom up with an iPad.

I know that I’m wandering a bit off-topic here, but I thought it might be of interest to some of you, so here goes nothing…

A few weeks ago, my mom mentioned that she’s been feeling isolated and that she wished she had some way of staying in touch with people online. The problem is that she’s 78 and completely computer illiterate.

To be honest, I’m not sure she’ll ever get over the technological hump, but… If she’s going to make it, then it seems like an iPad will be the vehicle that gets her there.

Perhaps an Android tablet would do equally well for her, but my brothers and I are all iOS devotees so I figured an iPad would be the easiest for us to support from afar.

Which iPad?

While an old-school, original iPad would be fine for her needs, we went with an iPad 2 with the smallest amount of storage (16GB). As for connectivity, we went with the wifi-only model since she’s mostly at home and they have wifi access.

We chose this model because it’s the lowest level iPad that’s still being marketed and thus likely to be supported for longer. In fact, the original iPad doesn’t support iOS 6 so it’s days are already numbered when it comes to future app support, etc.

Picking out a case

The last thing I want is for my mom to drop and destroy the iPad, so we went with a Griffin Survivor case. This is similar to the Otterbox Defender but a bit slimmer and significantly cheaper.

This case has an integrated screen protector as well as ample bumpers so it should provide sufficient protection from whatever bumps and bruises she has in store for it. More than anything, it will give her confidence to use it without fear of breaking it.

Account setup

For starters, I set her up with a Gmail account with my e-mail address as the recovery address. She’ll actually interact with this through the built-in Mail app so the choice of provider wasn’t too important. But I figured that using a mainstream provider would make it easier to get help if needed.

I then used her new e-mail address to create an Apple ID. While they used to require you to link a credit card to your account, that’s no longer necessary. Thus, I set it up without an associated payment mechanism.

Next, I created a Facebook account and Skype ID. For the latter, which she may or may not use, I was able to get an ID that matched her Gmail name.

For simplicity, I used the same password for each of these. I know that’s not the recommended approach to account security, but… It is what it is.

In this case, ease-of-use trumps security. She won’t be doing anything other than casual communication so the risks associated with a security breach are minimal. Moreover, while the password that I selected is memorable, it’s also quite secure.

App selection

Now… Time to install some apps. Since her primary desire is to stay in touch with people, the first thing I downloaded was Facebook. I then sent friend requests to select family members.

The way I see it is that, even if she doesn’t actively embrace Facebook, having access to it will provide her with a living scrapbook that she can scroll through. Basically a personal magazine filled with pictures and updates from loved ones.

I also installed Skype since a number of her grandchildren (some of whom are local and can help her with it) use Skype to stay in touch with each other. Will she use this? Who knows. But it’s there just in case.

Next up, I installed a couple of news apps including the local newspaper, a local TV channel, the AP news app, and some weather apps. The latter included “Today” and “RadarCast,” which give her a very simple (and easy-to-read) weather report and a nice, big radar view, respectively.

And, finally, some fun and games. This included a solitaire card game, Scrabble, a riddle game (Riddle HD), and a finger painting app (Scribble Kid) to help her get used to the touch screen.

The verdict? She thought the finger painting was “amazing” and she had a blast solving riddles with the grandkids. Solitaire was also a winner — even more so with my dad, who tries to monopolize it at times.

As for Scrabble, she loves the idea (word games are her favorite) but the implementation is tough. It takes a steady hand to drag and drop the tiles on the screen and her hands are a bit shaky. If she doesn’t get too frustrated, this will probably be good for her, but we’ll have to wait and see.

As an aside, you may have noticed that I didn’t link a payment method to her account, but that some of the above are paid apps. In these cases, I simply “gifted” the apps to her from my account.

The lack of a linked credit card is to prevent her from accidentally buying something she doesn’t want (she express this concern). As for why I used paid apps when there were (in some cases) free versions available…

I noticed that ad-supported apps could be confusing. Sometimes she’d inadvertently touch an ad and wind up on a web page in Safari. Other times an interstitial ad would pop up and she wouldn’t know how to dismiss it.

To me, it’s well worth paying a few bucks to provide her with a cleaner, less confusing interface. Ease of use is the key here.

Primary uses

While she was most interested in e-mail when we started to set this up, Facebook has caught her eye as an easy-to-use and fairly passive method of keeping tabs on people. E-mail, as it turns out, is pretty complicated and intimidating for her.

Given the above, we’ve turned our attention to iMessage as a complement to Facebook. Since most of the people that she wants to stay in touch with have iOS devices, this is a simpler alternative to e-mail.

We haven’t played with FaceTime yet, but that’s on the list of things to do before the end of the week.

Optimizing the settings

Finally, I tweaked the settings a bit to improve usability and make it less likely that she’d mess things up. This mainly involved increasing the default font size, which can be accessed under:

Settings > General > Accessibility > Large Text

And I also turned off the ability to delete apps, under:

Settings > General > Restrictions

While it’s still possible to delete apps (simply disable the restriction), it’s virtually impossible to do so accidentally. Just like with the sturdy case, the point here is to give her the confidence to play and discover without fear of messing things up.

I’m still looking into options for remote management so I can update apps, etc. from a distance. Unfortunately, I haven’t found much so far. Seems like a niche waiting to be filled.

If you have any additional suggestions — particularly if you’ve helped an elderly parent (or are one!) with an iPad — then please feel free to leave a comment. E-mail subscribers will, of course, have to click through to do so. Thanks!


1 Little House June 27, 2013 at 10:05 am

I think it’s great that she’s so willing to learn how to use an iPad. Not all seniors who’ve been left behind the technology trail are that willing to pick up a computer or tablet (my dad is a case in point). Good for you for getting her all set up!

2 Paul @ The Frugal Toad June 28, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Great resource Michael not just for aging Parents but others that are technically challenged! There are lots of apps that make it easy to keep in touch with friends and family besides facebook and I think it is great your Mom is willing to learn how to use the ipad!

3 Alex June 11, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Thanks Michael. My sister and I have just bought an iPad 2 for my Mum who is 87 in the hope that she will at least use FT. Your article was really helpful and I will suggest she tries the games etc that I had not thought of doing. I will also set her up on FB. Thanks!

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