A Senior’s Guide to Computer Basics

Computers are an invaluable part of modern society that’s become as standard as cars. Although they are now commonplace, when compared to telephones and televisions, computers can still be considered a somewhat new addition to the ranks of household consumer electronics. While it may be difficult to find a home or a business that does not have some type of computer, some individuals still do not use or feel comfortable using them. Often, it is senior citizens who have yet to embrace this technology. While some elderly individuals are computer-savvy, these devices may seem foreign, complicated, and frightening to others.

Computer Usage Benefits for Seniors

Whether a person is a senior who is contemplating the need to learn about computers or an individual who wants to teach an elder member of the family how to use one, it’s helpful to first understand how computers are useful. Frequent use of computers can help to improve a person’s mental agility, build confidence, and create a sense of independence. Computers can make life more convenient by giving the elderly a way to read the latest news, research health issues, pay bills online, and manage their finances.

For people who may live in another city, state, or even country than their grandchildren or children, it allows them to communicate by email, chat, or video conference. Computers also help people to connect socially with others when mobility or health is an issue.

Computer Basics

The best way to learn about and become comfortable with computers is to start with the basics. Important parts of a computer that one should know include the computer case, the central processing unit (CPU), the memory or RAM, the monitor, the keyboard, the modem, and the mouse.

The CPU can be described as the computer’s brain or core. It is located on what’s called the motherboard, which is inside the case. The case holds and protects the parts that enable the computer to function. It’s also where one will generally find the power button that turns the machine on and off. A CPU is a chip that processes the information that the computer receives.

There can be one or two CPUs. The RAM, or random access memory, is the main memory of a computer, and it can affect how a computer performs. In most computers, more RAM can be added. A modem is required for the computer to communicate with other computers and may be built into the motherboard or included as an add-on device.

Computers require a monitor to be useful. The monitor has a screen that shows the user text and images associated with the actions of the user and programs that are being run. It is connected to the computer along with the keyboard and mouse. Both the keyboard and the mouse enable the user to communicate and operate the computer.

The keyboard has letter and number keys as well as command keys that make it possible to perform functions such as scrolling up and down the page and capturing screen images. With the mouse, the user is able to scroll, select text, and perform other functions. While one types on a keyboard, the mouse is operated by sliding it on a smooth surface with one hand and clicking one or more buttons to select desired words, sentences, or images.

  • Basic Computer Skills: Find information here on using a mouse and keyboard, accessing files and a CD-ROM, and working with text.
  • What Is An Application? This guide to computer software includes videos and covers applications like word processors, Web browsers, media players, games, email programs, and more.
  • Mouse and Keyboard Skills: Get familiar with the basic skills needed to tell a computer what to do or share information with others online.
  • Basic Computer Information: The focus of this page is on computer literacy education. It talks about what computers are, their components, and how to use software.


One of the primary uses of computers for most people is to access the Internet. One will need a modem, and a router can also be a good idea, as this device can provide an added layer of security for your Internet connection. A wireless router will be needed to go online using a tablet or laptop computer; a wired one will work fine if you only have a desktop computer.

Service from an Internet service provider is also required to use the Internet. These services vary and are available with different speeds that can affect things such as how quickly a Web page loads and the quality of streaming movies. One should consider how important speed is to them, as faster speeds are often available at higher prices. A Web browser is a piece of software that allows one to access the Web. The browser software will need to be used to connect to a search engine if the user wants to search for information online.

  • Internet Basics: This brief guide about the Internet covers the World Wide Web, the necessity of a Web browser, and how to use the Web.
  • Introduction to Computers (PDF): To learn the basics of using the Internet, visit the Indian Hills Community College website to read this six-page guide. It explains Internet-related lingo and concepts, from shopping online to Web surfing and more.
  • Web by Design: Indiana University hosts a page with in-depth information about the Internet for new users. It addresses the etiquette of Internet use, the World Wide Web, the problem of malware, smileys, emails, and connectivity, among other subjects.


Email is a common way that people communicate with each other on the Internet. Through email, people can send files such as music, documents, and videos as well as text. In order to do so, one will need to know the email address of the person that they want to send a message to.

Email addresses consist of a username followed by the @ sign and then the Internet domain name of the account where the email will be received and stored: For example, jjones@example.com could be an email address. Sending emails is subject to the same etiquette that governs mail sent through the postal service.

Personal attacks should be avoided along with commercial sales pitches (also known as spam), and threats of violence are generally illegal. As a general rule, one should never write in an email what they wouldn’t want anyone other than the recipient to read.

  • Email Basics Workshop (PDF): Click this link to read a seven-page document about the basics of using email.
  • Mastering Basic Email Skills: The Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium provides a three-part tutorial on their website about how to use email. It is followed by review questions and a quiz at the end.
  • Email Basics (PDF): Seniors can learn about using email with this guide that talks about the pros and cons of email as well as how to use Yahoo’s email system.


Computer security is an important issue for users to be aware of, especially for seniors, who are often a specific target of certain types of online scams. A general rule to follow on the Internet is if an offer is presented that seems too good to be true, it generally is. It is important to install antivirus software to protect the computer from malware.

A firewall is also needed to protect personal information. It’s also necessary to keep both types of software up to date with the latest patches to keep the computer immunized from digital infections. Also, never volunteer personal information over email, chat, or other methods of communication except to trusted friends or family.

Seniors will want to avoid volunteering too much about their personal life on social media, as this can make a person a target for burglars, extortionists, stalkers, and scammers.

  • Top Security Tips (PDF): All users should know how to use strong passwords, avoid scams, and keep their computer system software up to date.

General Computer Help

Computers, like cars and other machines, can suffer problems with reduced performance and can even break down. These issues can manifest in the computer’s hardware, such as when a mouse stops functioning or the hard drive fails, or software, like when a video file becomes unreadable.

Computers may also slow down dramatically, freeze up and stop functioning, or have problems connecting to the Internet. When these things happen, it will be necessary for the user to seek help to diagnose and repair the computer. Elderly users can benefit from online or classroom computer training that teaches them how computers work and how to fix minor problems when they arise as well as perform maintenance tasks to prevent issues from happening in the first place. Highly savvy users may even eventually pursue professional training and certification to become an expert at helping others.

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