We’ve all been there: regardless of the information we’ve given them time and again, we sometimes find relatives and friends – especially the ones on the older side – struggling to understand basic computer concepts. When it comes to hardware specifically, it’s not uncommon to hear that someone’s desktop “has gotten old” although we know that they aren’t playing any heavy recent games – nor have they updated their software in years.

It can be frustrating, especially when you’re called to the rescue only to realize that all the computer in question needs to go back to functioning well is a format, or a quick RAM upgrade. Explain to the owner that they don’t have to throw their system away and that it never really “gets old” – it’s just that some software “gets new.” With that in mind, we’ve put together a simple guide to keeping calm and explaining some of the basics as well as concepts like formatting to your elderly aunt. We know you already know this stuff, what you’re maybe lacking is the patience to deal with this problem, or even the words to get your point across to the computer owner, who may or may not be elderly but is certainly not tech-savvy.


Whatever the issue, make sure you ask this person questions. They may lack the technical knowledge you have, but ultimately it’s your auntie who knows how she uses her system, and what for – she also is the one who knows what interests her, and needs your guidance in finding that online.

For instance, your relative may have installed Skype but stopped using it after she realized she can make video calls from Facebook. The program keeps running at startup though, and it’s likely it also changed her home page as she never noticed the “make Bing my homepage” part of the installer. Ask her what she wants her home page to be, and if she returns a blank expression, make sure to explain the difference between a home page, a browser and the world wide web. 

pc.jpgShe also may have bought a series of casual games in the last five years, but abandoned them after finding out she can play bingo online. Which brings us to another consideration: don’t forget let her know what she could be doing online after you’re sure what her interests are. Online bingo is a great and easy activity to suggest, especially to older people who may already enjoy the game in real life, as are instructional websites and arts and crafts videos on YouTube. Make sure you bookmark these sites on her browser, and that you set the bookmarks toolbar to always show – otherwise, you’ll have to deal with endless phone calls asking you where her favorite YouTube channel “vanished to.” 


When you’re told to sit at someone else’s computer to diagnose any issues, we know you’re tempted to format the hard drive right away. 

screenshot.jpgWait a minute, though: if the owner isn’t so great with technology, chances are they won’t have any backups. Just because you and I have automated systems, cloud storage and/or backup reminders in place, it doesn’t mean that this person does too. Make sure you ask or (after getting the owner’s permission) look around the OS drive for any pictures, music and video the owner is going to likely want to keep.

Moreover, make sure you recover, backup and/or write down her product keys and find installers to software that’s already there that your aunt will be looking for after the format. As we said, you may have a system in place, but don’t forget that not everyone else does. What’s more, you can even take a screenshot of her desktop, so that you can restore everything “to its proper place.”

Explain to your aunt that formatting is not unlike deep cleaning a house: you need to take inventory of what you will want to put back in once you’re done, but the house will be spotless and smell fresh once you’re done. If you don’t explain that they need to carefully tell you what to keep, some items (=files) they want may end up taken by the garbage truck. Good luck!

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