Technology Guardrails for Persons with MCI

man with headphones

Watch the talk about this post on Senior Tech Coffee episode 31.

Older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who are also technologically inclined still want to feel a sense of personal agency and autonomy when using computers, mobile devices, and online services. However, adult children of older adults, other family members, and caregivers want the persons in their care to use technology safely and responsibly.

How can we balance limiting an older adult with MCI’s access to online services, online banking or trading, or their computers and mobile devices with honoring and respecting their autonomy and agency?

We’ll explore some of the options available to family members and caregivers for establishing some technology guardrails for older adults with MCI.

Older Adults and Technology

According to the Pew Research Center, adults 65 and older have steadily increased their technology use since 2010, with 75 percent having used the internet in 2021 and 61 percent owning a smartphone.

As tech-savvy older adults begin to experience MCI, they become more vulnerable to online scams or security and privacy risks. Caregivers and family members need options to ensure their client or loved one’s safety and security online. 

There is a spectrum of options available. Caregivers and family members must find a balance between ensuring their client or loved one’s online safety and enabling interaction with others in online communities, for which there are numerous cognitive benefits.

woman using smartphone

Understanding the Risks

As an adult child, family member, or caregiver, ensuring an older client or loved one’s safety and privacy online is a paramount concern. Older adults – with or without MCI – are more vulnerable to scams and online fraud due to constantly evolving changes in online services and the vigilance required to protect your identity. Persons with MCI are even more at risk due to a reduced capacity for recognizing fraudulent online behavior.

Older adults often tend to have riskier password habits, too, like using simple passwords, using the same password repeatedly, and sharing passwords. Older adults with MCI may be more susceptible to persuasion from emails advertising sales on things they want or advertisements for health aids or alleged cures.

Caregivers and family members may need to monitor an elder client or loved one’s online purchases to avoid scams, overspending, or repeated buying of goods and services.

However, one risk of restricting online access for older adults with MCI is further cognitive decline due to decreased personal enrichment and socialization opportunities. Whatever the strategy, the prevailing opinion in aging studies recommends a person-centered approach that emphasizes an older adult’s wishes.

Establishing Technology Guardrails

An Association of Computing Machinery study identified a spectrum of methods caregivers use when establishing technology guardrails for persons in their care with MCI.

  • Hover – sitting with and actively monitoring the individual’s online activities.
  • Selective Access – limiting the individual’s access to online activities.
  • Interactor – monitoring the individual’s notifications and informing them of activity on their accounts (email, social media, etc.).
  • Checker – checking the accuracy or appropriateness of the individual’s online activities before posting, sending, or purchasing.
  • Automation – using tools like spam filters, password managers, safe browsing, and online bill pay.
  • Parental Controls – access control settings for computer and mobile device operating systems, blocked sites, user permissions on devices.

Each of these methods has upsides and downsides. Generally, the upsides are an older adult’s increased safety and security online, including them in the decision-making process to foster a sense of agency, reduced risk exposure, and reduced likelihood of mistakes.

Depending on the method, the downsides for an older adult are degrees of loss of autonomy and privacy, losing a sense of agency, and further cognitive decline due to a lack of social interaction.

Technology Guardrail Solutions

The operating systems of most computers, smartphones, and tablets have some technology guardrails built-in, often in the form of parental controls. When utilizing these tools, including your older adult client or loved one in the decision-making process when possible will facilitate their buy-in and respect their autonomy.

Microsoft Family

Windows 10 users can utilize Microsoft Family.

  • Activity reporting for device and app use
  • Set screen time limits across devices
  • Set app and game limits
  • Filter websites and searches when using Microsoft Edge
  • Filter unsuitable apps and games with the Microsoft Family app

Apple Screen Time

iMac, MacBook, iPhone, and iPad users can utilize Apple’s Screen Time feature.

  • Prevent iTunes and App Store purchases
  • Enable or disable built-in features and apps
  • Block explicit content or content ratings
  • Block access to web content
  • Manage access to Game Center
  • Manage access to change privacy settings
  • Set screen time limits

Google Family Link

Android and Chromebook users can use Google Family Link.

  • Activity reporting for device and app use
  • Set screen time limits
  • Remote device locking
  • Location tracking
person holding tablet

Legal Requirements

Digital assets are everything from email and online accounts to files and intellectual property that only exists in digital form. Managing your digital assets should be included in estate planning and requires appropriate powers of attorney so family members and caregivers can legally interact with an older adult’s online accounts.

One of the first things an authorized family member or caregiver should do is install and utilize a password manager for their client or loved one. A password manager enables caregivers to implement complex passwords for improved online security and account management. Older adults and caregivers only have to remember a single master password to access their other passwords. Sharing passwords without a power of attorney is illegal.

For more information or to get help setting up technology guardrails for your older adult client or loved one, please contact Prime of Life Tech for assistance.


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