Helping Senior Citizens Reveals Past Apple Lapses and Recent Improvements

Originally published at: Helping Senior Citizens Reveals Past Apple Lapses and Recent Improvements - TidBITS

After spending several days helping some elderly friends with their Macs, Adam Engst came away with a new appreciation for how difficult some aspects of Mac use are for older people. Some Apple efforts are a step in the right direction but may not be available to today’s users. And there’s plenty of room to improve.


I also suspect it is harder for older folk to “keep up” as they are on fixed incomes, and replacing perfectly functional older hardware unnecessarily is hard to justify. $1000 or more for a new computer or phone is a lot more money when you’re managing retirement assets then when you’re employed and have decades left to earn. (Debates about investment strategies and compound interest aside.)

I have similar trepidation about moving some elderly people I help to a password managers. They have lists of their sites, usernames, passwords, etc., that they keep in encrypted disk images (with a password they never use anywhere else). Not as good as a password manager, but I think a good enough solution because they understand it and can use it reliably.

I’d like to have them use 2FA for some things, but I fear the additional level of complexity to manage keeping backups of the QR code seeds, using the generators, etc., would be more frustrating that the improvements in security.


Why isn’t keeping passwords in an encrypted disk image, with its own unique password, as good as a password manager? (Assuming you have a backup of the disk image on a separate drive.)

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A thoughtful and well written article! Thanks Adam!
As one who has been a computer user since the days of the 8K Commodore PET I can relate to your friends collection of older “stuff” and trying to keep organized.
I use a Password Manager, PasswordWallet, and find that it is helpful. I looked into LastPass but could not bring myself to pull the trigger on moving to it as the setup seemed more complicate than I was ready to face. I am not a fan of 2FA. What happens if I don’t have access to my “trusted device”? And it’s just one more thing to have to do in order to log onto a website.
One thing that I’ve noticed over the past few years, is the difference between those who use computers/smart phone on a regular basis and those who don’t. I’m not into the social media thing, at 73 it’s not interesting to me, but I do use Messages and Line to communicate with friends and find that some folks check for texts on a regular basis and others don’t. Those who don’t can be difficult to communicate with because they want a phone call rather than texting. It’s an interesting paradigm.
Thanks again for the interesting article.


great topic, and appropriately timely for some !
First posting after many years of lurking via the old but ongoing MacSurfer aggregator !
Very appropriate as I hit the 7th decade this week, so decayed is on the menu.
Found the time, as I’m having an extended Hardware x’over from '13 Pro to M1 Mac Studio. Migration Assistant didn’t work as I’d done Time Machine backup to NAS, but as most directories were on External drive via Symlink, they weren’t restored “in place”. So, Erase all Content and settings initiated, retaining the OS, and saving hours of recovering an OS Install.
School of Hard Knocks wins again.
( both overkill, but I’ve worked on Mac Pros since 2008, and 1 still on standby here )
Adam’s comments are relatable here as I’ve assisted an 80+ couple transition a PC Win7 to Win11 new laptop. I managed data transfer fine, but hit a brickwall with the new UI, so had to point them to “PC Pro” help. Even after 6 years of prodding, their passwords are written in different notepads, and often mismatched between the “service” and matching passwords.
Apple’s password manager is fine, but restricted, and with limited funds, I’ve added BItWarden to the mix, but this needs manual “sync” with Apple, but the added features for storing other login data, bank/card details outweighs the extra input time or ‘pesky’ subscriptions.
With a few medical concerns I anticipated being an “early exiter” so appointed a Power of Attorney family member, entrusted with enough “core” password & other detail to navigate IT & other institutions. Here this applies until an executor assumes control. Both will now have details of Apple’s Legacy Contact key. However Apple’s usual confusion applies, in that if you choose one person, there’s an option to choose another. If you do that, Person 1 disappears… Apple often manages to cloud options, (and app “Easter eggs” )


I’m 78 and live in a retirement community. I’ve also noticed that many people my age are unable to use Touch ID. Of course Apple must appeal to whatever group will buy the most of their products, but it doesn’t seem like they care much about us oldies, although some of the Accessibility items are helpful.

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Yes! Not only am I personally a long time user of PasswordWallet, several of my friends (including seniors) now use it too. It’s simple to grasp and explain, and doesn’t require constant care and updates like the fancier, integrated, and expensive managers do.

I think the biggest concern is length and complexity of passwords chosen vs. a password manager. It also has to be manually updated, and is subject to accidental edits and typos.

That said, I actually think it’s a very good solution.

And they do backup both with Time Machine and Backblaze.


Great article, Adam.
I was intrigued by Erase All Content, as I had never seen it. You said: “Here’s how you’ll prep a Mac for a new life if it’s running Monterey. Open the System Preferences app, but instead of working inside its window, as you normally do, choose System Preferences > Erase All Content and Settings to start the Erase Assistant.”
However, Monterey is not the only requirement.
From Apple: “On a Mac with Apple silicon or an Intel-based Mac with the Apple T2 Security Chip, use Erase Assistant to reset your Mac to factory settings before you trade it in or sell it.”
Therefore, it cannot be used on my Mac Pro (2013).
Also, I am a big fan of Password Wallet.

I agree with all the above, and I would like to acknowledge how proactive and pioneering Apple has been with health features that older people will benefit from, especially for . ECG, fall detection, emergency SOS alerting, heart monitoring, Medical ID, Emergency Contacts, There are also features for people with hearing impairment. And Find My will help locate misplaced phones, etc.

The App Store has lots of highly rated services for Seniors. Here are just three:

And there are plenty of fun and mentally challenging apps like Wordle, Words With Friends, Luminosity. There’s even stuff like dating services for seniors.

AARP has an excellent Mac and iOS apps with a wealth of services for members, from health and fitness advice and activities, fun and mind challenging games, news, local events. They also have a Personal Technology Resource Center that’s very well organized with good, easily to understand information that is not at all condescending in attitude. Some features are only available to members, but there is a lot of very valuable info that’s free. There’s even a fun iPhone/iPad intro challenge with an opportunity to win a cash prize:

You’re right. I’m 72 and living on Social Security so buying new equipment gets delayed. Then Apple makes it even more difficult by discounting the 27in iMac. It sounds like my 2016 iMac will not be upgradeable to the new OS which is troubling. The same is true on my iPads. It’s very frustrating.

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I have been using the Medisafe app on my iPhone for years to remind me to take my meds at specific times each day. This basic functionality is free to use without creating an account or logging in (i.e., use it as ‘Guest’). I highly recommend it. There are many other handy features if you’re willing to pay.

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From a security standpoint alone, it’s probably better since most password managers are cloud based and therefore subject to remote hacking, but managers have so many other features (automatic saving, pasting, updating, suggesting highly secure passwords, etc.) make them much easier and faster to use.

I want to emphasize this:

There is nothing wrong keeping a paper notebook filled with passwords.

Okay, there is all sorts of stuff wrong with it:

  • Someone could steal the book and all your passwords.
  • You could lose your book and all your passwords.
  • You may not be generating the best passwords.
  • You might be simplifying passwords because you have to manually type them in.

But it’s easy to understand, simple to implement, and is way better than the alternative: reusing your password at multiple sites.

After many many failed attempts at getting old people (aka people my age) to use a password manager or even use the built in web browser password manager, I found a technology they easily understand.

I tell them compose a password from three or four random words. Then, because websites insist upon it, capitalize it and append a !1 It’s something they can look at, and remember as they type it into the password field.

The problem is generating good passwords. I tell them to pick up a magazine and scan it for a few words.

For example, taking the magazine next to me:

  • Transit
  • Aromas
  • Volcanic
  • mystery

Transitaromasvolcanicmystery!1 is a great password. They should write it as four separate words in their notebook, so they can read it.

I think the breaking point came when I introduced someone to LastPass, emphasized with them the absolute importance of remembering their LastPass password, and them calling me two weeks later asking if I remembered it.


Thanks for answering my incipient, unasked question! My 2019 iMac 27" Retina running Monterey doesn’t show Erase Assistant. Why not?!

Good article, Adam, and prompts some comments from me as another graybeard.

What I use for password management is Firefox’s Logins and Password feature. My password for Firefox is one of the key rememberable passwords that I have written down in a folder in my desk, along with those for the bank, credit cards, email, my web site, and anything that’s crucial in case I drop dead. It can create mixed-character gobbledygook passwords if I want them. Firefox also has a useful system for tracking accounts and passwords which can help when companies redesign their web sites in ways that breaks passwords.

We don’t use fingerprint IDs; my wife’s fingerprints are not recognizable.

One important issue you don’t talk about that has been a problem for Apple is screen readability. Pale gray text may be stylish, but it is hard to read for those of us with aging eyes. Large type helps; I find tiny type unreadable, even after cataract surgery. Black type on white screen is often best, but when white is very bright it can cause glare that makes text unreadable. I turn screen brightness down, and also use a utility called f.lux that can adjust screen color to turn down blue in the evening, when it causes glare. If you have severe glare problems, it also has a Darkroom effect that turns the screen to red type on a black background, which kills glare.

By our 50s, most of us have presbyopia, which limits how our eyes adapt to distance and makes us use reading glasses, which are designed for reading paper books. You also need separate computer glasses because you generally read a computer at a larger distance. I find that the two are not interchangeable; my computer glasses cannot resolve small type on a page or on the screen, so I switch to progressive lenses (which have a refractive index graduated continually, rather then switching between two values as in bifocals). Unfortunately, progressive lenses do not work well with the large screens that I use.

I can read small type on paper with reading glasses as long as it is printed clearly, but I find it difficult to impossible to read small type on screen because it is not that sharp - even with a retina screen. Thus, I don’t use a smartphone because I need type I can read easily, and I would not recommend pushing older people to use them if they don’t already. If they need iOS apps, a large iPad is a much better choice. If they use a computer, a desktop with a large screen might help them.


Do they actually use it? I found one of the biggest obstacles is to get people to understand the importance of using good passwords. I can easily see many people deciding even your fairly simple method of generating and keeping track of passwords is too much of a hassle and just using their dog’s name everywhere because “It’s easy to remember!”

Why isn’t keeping passwords in an encrypted disk image, with its own unique password, as good as a password manager? (Assuming you have a backup of the disk image on a separate drive.)

In no particular order:

  1. Easier use. One keystroke vs opening a file, searching for the right section, copy, paste, close the file and image. If you are using totp, now you are adding another device or app into the process because a document can’t support dynamic authentication methods. This is the kind of speed bump that makes people choose a different path. If something is more annoying, they’ll fall back on simple rememberable passwords and re-using them.
  2. Easier updating. Password managers will monitor for changes in your password and offer to update changes with one click. Faster and easier means more likely to happen.
  3. Password managers will only fill passwords on pages that match the URL - which means even if you are tricked by a convincing Phishing attempt, the password manager will prevent you from providing your password (or at least throw up red flags)
  4. Organization that is designed specifically for passwords and search results that are well-formatted for the use.
  5. retention of password history. Like the difference between sync and backup ACE mentioned in the article, password managers save the prior passwords, which I have occasionally found useful if the system didn’t save the updated password when I thought I was updating it.
  6. alerts for unsafe passwords. Managers use systems like have I been Pwned to monitor which passwords leaked from hacks and can tell you if you have a password that is likely to be in a cracker quick list, or even just if the password is too simple and easy to crack. They monitor the news for when sites have been breached and alert you it’s time to change the login for that site or take other actions. They can also tell you if you are using a site that offers 2FA, but you have not set that up. Since this feature is rolling out over time across sites you would need to periodically check the settings of all your passwords to know otherwise. Never happen.
  7. Password generation password managers will create strong passwords for you. And you can make sure it matches the requirements of the site before you submit. Apple software is getting better at this, but I still find it better to control the variables through 1Password.
  8. Sharing. With a document you share everything or nothing. Password managers let you share certain sets, but not the rest.

2019 iMacs don’t have a T2 chip, it wasn’t included until the iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, 2020). I don’t know why this was the case, given there were 2018 Macs that had the T2.

Mac models with the Apple T2 Security Chip

Erase all content and settings on Mac (about Erase Assistant)

If you go to System Preferences/Settings in Apple operating systems, Accessibility, Display you’ll find an “Increase Contrast” setting that helps make system text and the edges of windows, icons, etc. more apparent.

Apple’s mobile operating systems have system-wide text size settings in Display & Brightness (plus a Bold Text toggle and more options in Accessibility) but it’s lacking in macOS, you’re expected to use Display scaling to make everything bigger (or use Zoom setting to magnify portions of the screen). These still might not be sufficient for everyone but for many people they make iPhones quite usable.

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