eReaders for the elderly – A useful gadget for older people

As a sort of polar follow on from my last post (the one about eReaders in schools), I thought it would be interesting to see what is being said about the usefulness or otherwise, of eReaders for older, well, lets be honest, old people.  I can say this, as I am 67 myself, and thus will be able to draw on my own experiences for this post as well as other sources.

Hunted the net, and………..

I have had a good snuffle around on the internet to see if I could find any specific references to how eReaders might be of special interest to older people, and found remarkably little, to my surprise.

I came across a number of sites dedicated to technology and old people, but these tended to be mainly concerned with computers and mobile phones, with the occasional reference to eBooks or eReaders.  I did however come across several references to libraries, chiefly in Britain, who have purchased a few eReaders specifically for their older clients, but no large scale efforts in this direction really, which surprised me, since the various advantages of eReaders for older people seem so obvious to me – see below.

Why are eReaders “Old People” friendly devices?

There are a number of obvious advantages to old people that an eReader can offer:-

  • Scalable font size – this is an obvious one, to be able to increase and decrease the size of the font according to one’s eye sight and the light level is a real benefit for us older people.
  • Lightness – also a great benefit, not to have to hump a hefty great paper book around with one is wonderful!
  • Last read page – Now this is a real bonus for us oldies, as I always forget where I was in a book, and whilst I have no problem with dog-earing the last page I was reading in my own books, one can’t really do this with borrowed books (libraries and friends), and when  I have used bookmarks, the damn things are always falling out in my rug-sack when I take the books out with me.

Apart from these specific advantages for us, all the other advantages of eReaders over paper books that we all enjoy apply equally to us too, of course.

eReaders and libraries:

As I mentioned earlier in this post, an increasing number of libraries around the world are acquiring eReaders (and a good stock of lendable eBooks) specially for  their older clients.  These eBooks delete themselves after a couple of weeks, and apparently can’t be copied, so they function exactly as do paper library books. As far as I can gather from forum chat this is a development that many older clients appreciate very much, as well as the option to have text to voice, so  when they are tired or simply can’t be bothered to actually read, the book reads itself to them.  Unlike audio books (also a very good thing) eReaders can function as both audio books and ordinary books, thus meeting the changing needs of elderly readers very well.

Reading in bed:

Like a lot of people – I suspect – I do a lot of my reading in bed before going to sleep, and I find the ease of holding an eReader in  bed is far greater than a paper book,  not least the fact that once I am in position, I don’t have to keep changing my position as I move from the left hand page to the right hand page, if you see what I mean.  This is a serious advantage for those older people who have little strength in their arms and wrists.  Once comfortably established, no further moving is required, just push the advance page button as you read….

Lightness and travelling:

I know  I mentioned the benefit of the lightness of eReaders above, but as an additional factor for the elderly (and to a lesser degree, the younger) readers, when traveling, having a good stock of books with one without the horrible weight of paper books is very beneficial.   Since I acquired my Sony, my Take on Bag when flying has finally become manageable.  No longer that standing at the check in counter with about 20 kilos of books in my bag over my shoulder, attempting to look as if the bag is as light as a feather to avoid problems with over weight…………  A true blessing!

Share with us:

If you have any thoughts on this topic, I would be very glad to see them, and possibly revisit this topic if there seems to be interest in it.

30 thoughts on “eReaders for the elderly – A useful gadget for older people

  1. Carol

    I am a few years older than you and am going travelling for six weeks leaving in about three weeks. I don’t have a blog so i don’t know whether this will reach you. My problem is to know which reader woul dbe best for me; and how high will th efrustration level be trying to set it up and download books.

    thanks Carol

    1. Tony Post author

      Hi Carol, thanks for your comment. A very good question which I will do my best to answer in an email direct to you after I have checked out which eReaders you can get in Australia (where I take it you live from your email address.
      I shall also post my answer here for others to read.

      Best wishes,


  2. Tony Post author

    As promised, here is my reply to Carol, which i hope is a help to her, and anyone else in Australia…….

    Hi Carol,

    Assuming I am correct in thinking you live in Australia, then the range of eReaders you can choose from is a bit limited, to put it mildly!

    I think the best one for you would probably be the Kindle from Amazon, as if you order it quickly it should arrive before you head off on your travels. This is a very easy to use device, so I think that if you read the instructions carefully, you will have no problems downloading via the direct (and free) WiFi/3G system that is built into the Kindle. Thus you can buy almost all the books that Amazon sell, in the format that the Kindle uses.

    You will need to go to this Amazon page to buy it if you live in Australia:

    If you can find it,another eReader that would work for you is the Hanlon (or sometimes sold as the BeBook) which is another good, straightforward eReader, which supports a number of formats that are used for eBooks, most importantly ePub. This eReader is available in Australia, and sells for about the same price as the Kindle – about 250 USD.

    Do not be tempted by the eReaders that Dymocks are selling, they are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy over priced devices.

    All eReaders come with clear instructions, and where needed, software to enable you to download and install eBooks on your device, in the case of the Kindle, you can do it all with the eReader itself, and have no need for a computer, which when traveling is a handy thing.

    Personally, I think the Kindle is the device for you to buy,, if you can get it delivered in time. You say you are off in about 6 weeks, so if you move fast should be time enough to get it, and sort out how to work with it before you go.

    Speaking as one who travels the world a lot, I wouldn’t be without my eReader,makes the whole horrid air travel experience almost bearable, and so convenient too… one light smallish device….. Great discovery.

    If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to give me a shout.

    With my best wishes,


  3. Tony Post author

    Teach me to read things carefully, I see you are traveling for 6 weeks, but leaving in three!!!!! Well, if you do it now, it should arrive before you go, if that seems unlikely, you will have to try one of the following for a BeBook:
    Interesting comments about the BeBook in Australia

    BeBooks website,, which you can buy BeBooks from.

  4. Phil

    Hi, I just wanted to drop a note and thank you for your article. I found this article while researching a similar theme for my blog (which deals with gadgets for the elderly, with an eye towards usability). My dad is a 79 year old technophobe who has recently fallen in love with his Kindle. Due to some mild cognitive impairment, I have to help him with purchasing books, etc, but once he starts reading he is good to go. The “last page feature” you mentioned in your article is truly a godsend :)

  5. Tony Post author

    I am very happy to hear of your father’s pleasure in his Kindle, that is splendid. I agree with your comment about the “last page read” function, as far as I am concerned that is probably the one most important function an eReader should have.

    As long as he has you, or a friend to help him with downloading his books, which on the Kindle is truly well thought out, he will have so much pleasure from being able to obtain books without moving out of his home, or any of the sort of bother we have when buying paper books.

    Obviously for him, it is a real boon, and I am happy to hear it. Give him my best wishes please.

  6. jack

    I am caregiving my 92 yr old pop in Thailand, where there is a limited selection of English books available. I was thinking about and researching e books as a solution to provide easy reading for him in and out of bed.
    MY main concerns are user friendliness, as he has difficulty with the simplest of devices……phones, remote controls etc.
    And availability of content over here in Thailand, where English is a very 2nd language, but we have internet to download from torrent sites.
    With a ‘Kindle’, will I be able to dwonload non propriatory content?? or am I stuck with Amazon’s expensive offerings??

    Thanks in advance…..

    1. Tony Post author

      Hi, As far as I know, if you use a Kindle,you will be obliged to download eBooks from Amazon, which in your father’s case could well be a problem, as I rather doubt that they offer many eBooks in Thai. I think you would be better off buying a more “universal” eReader (Kobo, Sony, BeBook or any of the Chinese ones), as they will happily accept ePub and other formats, thus giving you access to a huge library of eBooks from all over the world, which would certainly have books in Thia.
      I appreciate the problem of helping him to actually use the eReader, but if you deal with all the eBook purchasing and installing on the eReader for him, they are mostly pretty simple to actually use.

      Good luck and best wishes

  7. Hanneke

    Hi Tony,
    I have been reading about ereaders todayand they seem THE solution to reading pdf books for me. I am in Australia and have been looking at what is available here. Price is important consideration(low income) for me as well and although Kindle DX sounds great. the cost is a little high for me. Also, reading that the Kindle requires buying from Amazon makes me wonder if I can download all the pdf files I already have on my hd.

    The two I have been looking at here are
    – Kogan
    -The Eco Reader

    Would either of these be a good choice, both cost 189 or 199 dollars, or would you say that saving up a bit and go for the Kindle or Bebooks, would be a better choice.

    Really would appreciate your input on this.

    Thank you

    1. Tony Post author

      Hi, I sympathise with your problem, it isn’t easy to make up one’s mind about these things, there are so many ereaders appearing these days. It used to be much easier back when it was basically a choice between a Sony or a Kindle….

      I am answering your query this way, as it seems better to write to you directly, saves you having to keep going back to my blog to see if I have answered you yet. I shall also post it as a reply to your comment as well, it may help others with the same problem.

      Anyhow, to cases.

      The Kindle DX doesn’t handle PDF files very well, but to be honest, no ereader with a small (less than 9 inch) screen handles them well, as the formatting of a PDF file is designed to be seen on a relatively large computer screen, so it inevitably means a lot of scrolling up and down, left and right on a small ereader screen.

      But, you should be able to transfer your existing PDF files from your computer to a Kindle OK.

      Reading with a Kindle is great, the screen and clarity is superb, so as an ereader, the Kindle is a very good choice… but………

      Do they actually need to be PDF files? I mean, are they actually ebooks, that you have downloaded as PDF files rather than, say ePub ones? If this is the case, then you would do better to download a program such as Caliber, which is free and very easy to use – and convert your PDF files to ePub, then you will be able to read them on any ereader perfectly well (but not on a Kindle, as Amazon have their own format, and won’t share it with the world).

      Which ereader to actually buy is also not easy, but of the ones you appear to be considering, I would suggest that the Kogan would be a better bet. I am not very taken with the Eco, it seems to me to be over priced for what it can offer you.

      Another one that is readily available in Australia is the Kobo, a well made and reasonable ereader, you can buy it at Borders book shops.

      To put it in a nut shell, if you need to work with PDF files, that are necessarily PDF files (brochures, guides to things and so on), then you should go for the biggest screen you can afford.

      If, on the other hand, your PDF files are actually ebooks (novels and so on) then you would do better to convert them to ePub, and buy a normal (say 6 inch screen) ereader, in which case I would recommend either the Kogan or the Kobo.

      The Kindle has a number of advantages over all the other ereaders just now, the chief one being the incredible ease of buying and installing your ebooks on it, but you are tied to Amazon for your ebooks then, as Kindles only work with PDF and Amazon’s own system.

      Here is the link to Caliber:

  8. Leslie


    Thank you so much for this article. I have been all over the internet trying to locate information on which ereader to buy for my parents.

  9. Roger

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks for the article, I have only just come across it. I am 61 and I love my Kindle – so easy to use. I live in Australia and unfortunately some of the ebooks on Amazon are not available to people who live here. Amazon is not the only source of reading material for the Kindle. I have got a lot of books from the Manybooks site and you just need to select the device when downloading them. I had a quick look at the ipad but felt it might not be so useful for three main reasons: First, the whole menu system seems to be overly complicated; Second, it is a little too big for comfortable holding; And third, the books from Apple seem to be more expensive. In addition, I am mainly interested in reading words and not looking at the pictures so the advantage of the colour screen etc is of little interest to me. I know there are some youtube videos of elderly people using iPads, but I was wondering if you have any real statistics about which devices for reading ebooks (as distinct from surfing the web) are preferred by the elderly. Thanks.

    1. Tony Post author

      Hi Roger, I am glad you found that article interesting – I wrote it as I am also one of the ancients of this world (68) and thus know what I am talking about here.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your feelings about the iPad, an overhyped rather silly device in my view (it does nothing a decent small laptop can do, and not even as much as one such.) I regard it much in the same way as I regard large coffee table books, possibly nice to have and to look at, but bloody inconvenient to actually use.

      I normally live in the Philippines, but I am also in Oz for a few months just now, visiting our son and his kids,and I know exactly what you mean about that irritating geographical limitation on what books you can buy here. It is something that publishers and book sellers are going to have to change, as it must be losing them so many sales all around the world just now.

      I am afraid I don’t have any statistics about the elderly and ereaders, sorry, but to judge from my mail box, ereaders are remarkably popular with older folk, I even have had emails about people in their 90’s using them happily.

      As a source for free ebooks, I assume you have discovered the Australian Gutenberg site ( and another good one for free ebooks is feed book (

      There are so many sources of legal free ebooks online it is unbelievable, and further, if you are any good with computers, there is a lot of software that can both strip the DRM (copyright protection) from any ebooks you buy that are not in the correct format for your kindle, ePub for example, and then using Calibre (a free format changer – you can change the format to the correct one for your Kindle, and thus read it happily.

      If I can help in any other way, just drop me an email (using the form on the “Contact me” page) and I shall do my best to help you.
      Best wishes,

  10. Gail

    I am researching e-book readers for an elderly friend with vision problems. I am wondering about the scalable font feature. Does it reorient the text by adjusting the flow, or does it just make the text bigger, requiring the person reading to scroll left and right to read each sentence? I noticed you mentioned this problem relative to PDFs, but it’s not clear if it’s an issue with e-readers in general, as that would seem unpleasant and awkward.

    We are in the USA and I’m thinking the Kindle DX looks like the best bet, but am still looking at others for their greater flexibility. Lots of good info here. Thanks.

    1. Tony Post author

      @ Glyn.
      Yes, the Kindle can “read” your ebooks to you OK, but many publishers for some unknown reason refuse to allow this function, so if you are buying ebooks with that in mind, make sure before you buy them that you will be allowed to use the text to Speech function with that particular ebook.

  11. Eric

    Thanks for this article. I have been looking around for some alternatives for my great aunt who is 94 now, and who adores reading, but who also cannot really get out to the store to peruse books. I’ve been very interested lately in the e-readers, and in fact have purchased a Kindle 3 for my wife who does a substantial amount of reading through the day and before going to bed.

    My wife has been able to view content that is not proprietary to Amazon, but she must move it to the device from the computer, which sometimes requires file conversion and / or modifying the directory tree. There is some ability to synchronize content with other types of devices as well (i.e. PC / Mac, iphone, slate PC / iPad, etcetera).

    I had an opportunity to show the device to my great aunt and discovered some issues. The points where they fall short are kind of significant in the context of the elderly, and it’s really caused me to puzzle over them. While the text is scalable, and that the content re-flows relative to the setting (so there is no scrolling to the side, which is nice), the text in the menus don’t share this setting. So, once you get to the book you’re golden. Getting there might prove to be a challenge as the menu text is not exceptionally large. Additionally, the keyboard on the Kindle (at least) features buttons for the keys which are legible only if your vision is good.

    It is possible to work around some of these issues, perhaps with a magnifying glass and a good lamp nearby. Both of these are kind of standard equipment in the average elderly person’s house, in my experience. So in the short term the above issues can be resolved with perhaps only minor headaches.

    The next point is really two-fold: access and pricing. For folks like my great aunt, there really is no Internet access. The devices are very useful with an Internet connection, but without it there is a high need to spend the extra $50 to gain 3G access to the book store. $140 for a device to read books seems difficult to stomach on a fixed income, especially when the device contains a lot of really new technological concepts, including limited access to the Internet.

    Why make it more expensive to have this technology? If this is going to be the entry point for most elderly onto the Internet, wouldn’t it make sense to offer 3G as a standard feature at a more affordable price, and perhaps offer WiFi as the upgrade? The infrastructure is already in place for 3G. My great aunt will neither add broadband nor any other type of ISP to her list of expenses. We won’t even get into the additional equipment to make it functional with the e-reader.

    The market seems to be pricing these devices like standard slate computers or netbooks, but they don’t function as dynamically. In fact, I would sooner compare them in scope to something like the digital planner devices from a few years back. Their function is valuable, but not even as broad or robust as that of my phone. The significant benefits are that they have “digital ink” which permits reduced eye strain when reading for extended periods, and that they permit a tremendous library to be stored on board or archived online. The low-down: the devices are indeed wonderful advancements, but their splendor is tempered with some problems for the elderly.

    1. Tony Post author

      Eric, Thanks for your thoughtful comments, you make some extremely good points here.

      I thought the idea with the Kindle 3 was that it came with free 3G connectivity, which would seem to meet your Great Aunt’s understandable objections to both the additional cost of an internet connection, plus the complexities of dealing with a computer.

      The rest of your points are very relevant, both the pro and con.

      I think it may be time for me to revisit this topic.

  12. Nancy McDonald

    Tony, I can only add my thanks for this article. My 94-year-old mother loves to read, but needs large (or at least larger than usual) print and has great difficulty holding much weight. Large-print books are even bigger and heavier than standard books, which is enormously frustrating. Mom’s basically bedridden, though her mind is still good. She lives in managed care, and there are several people there who could help her with the more technological aspects of an e-reader. I’m ASTONISHED that, given the population demographics of the US, there isn’t more info on the internet about e-readers for the elderly. Will continue to investigate and will let you know what we get for Mom – and how she likes it.

    1. Tony Post author

      Hi Nancy,
      I agree with you completely, ereaders are the best thing to happen for the older folk among us in the way of mobile devices. As a reasonably old man myself, I find the ability to increase the size of the font at need, the lightness of the device and the simplicity of changing pages and so on a real boon.
      I am happy that my waffles on the subject have been of some help to you, and your Mother.

      Please do let me know what you decide to do about it as I am sure that others will find it helpful too.

      Best wishes to both you and your Mother,


  13. christine

    Hi Tony,
    I was interested in eBook readers for older people and happened upon your musings. I was caught by your use of the phrase ‘rug-sack’ when describing a carryall. Can you tell me how you happened to begin using it? I do a little word and phrase etymology on the side! If you heard that term around the house growing up, or in your neighborhood, did you grow up amongst Germanic speaking people?

  14. jonathan

    ok, I have a query,
    my mother 85, is basically incompetent with technology. to give you a sense, I got her a basic cd recorder for hearing books on tape. I had to glue all the buttons except the play/stop. otherwise she would get hopelessly lost. the tv remote is another challenge. really, I’m not being flippant, just realistic.
    she has low vision macular degeneration. she’s legally blind but can read a large print book with a magnifying glass.
    I wish I could find a device with back forward and power button. something that simple, and the ability to increase font size.

    all the devices I have seen so far have way too many button, and menuing ui’s designed for engineers.
    (speaking for myself, a sw engineer.)

    I’d be happy to develop such a thing if I had the hardware.

    any ideas?

  15. Tony Post author

    @ Jonathan,

    I symapthise with your mother’s problems,and to be honest, I am not too sure what to advise you to buy. Most new ereaders these days have touch screens, which is obviously no use to your mother, or many too many buttons.

    None of the ereaders that use WiFi or 3G or touch screens are suitable I feel for her, but perhaps the Sony PRS-650 might be a possibility.

    It has a touch screen, but can also be worked by means of the few buttons below the screen , one for advance page, one for page back and the remaining buttons are for setting the font size and several other unimportant functions.

    It has a lot of font sizes, and a very clear screen, it isnt to heavy to hold, and is generally a relaible and solid device.

    See if you can foind one in a store near where you live and give it a try out.

    I hope this will help you a bit.

  16. Faye

    Dear Tony,

    Thank you so much for addressing the issue of eReaders for seniors!! My 81 yr. old mother is a lifetime reader whose macular degeneration now prevents her even reading Large Print books. Mom is PC and email savvy, and an ereader may be the answer. Unfortunately we haven’t found any good decision- or shopping tips featuring senior issues like easy font-size change, screen viewability, ease of use, etc.

    Its use by seniors, with senior needs, is sadly unaddressed on all the sales pitches of Nook, Kindle etc.

    We will be off to the Barnes and Noble store for a demo on Nook. No such option exists that I’m aware of for trying out a Kindle. Best wishes and thanks again!

    1. Tony Post author

      @ Faye,
      Given that ereaders have been shown to be very popular anong the older readers of the world, mainly owing to their ability to enlarge the fonts, and ease of use in general, it is odd that more isnt made of this when ereader makers advertise their products.

  17. Phil Hudson

    Hi Tony,
    My name is Phil. I was looking on the internet for which brand of e Reader I would like to buy in the near future, when I came across your article. It was quite helpful and gave me information I didn’t really think about when looking at buying an e Reader. I am 61 years old and on a disability pension, so have a limited income. I live in New Brunswick Canada. I have my own laptop and have some computer knowledge. I wear glasses for reading so an e reader which can change font size would be great. I was looking at Kindle, KoBo and Sony e reader but not sure what would be best for me or if there was another Brand I should consider. I like reading and have a few books yet to read, but I think an e reader would be a lot easier to hold and carry. Also price would make a big difference in what one I would buy. Is there maybe another brand that you think might be a good choice that I should think about?
    I agree with some of the other people who wrote to you about why haven’t the makers of e readers given out more information for older people and taken us into more consideration when they design their e readers. The population is getting older and there are going to be a lot more of us in the coming years so it would be wise if they took that into consideration. I hope to hear from you and will keep checking your site.
    Thanks for the help.

  18. Tony Post author

    @ Phil.

    From what you tell me about your situation I would suggest that the cheapest Kindle would probably be the best one for you to buy. The only reservation I have in suggesting this is that it would only be useful to you if you have a WiFi set up at home, as the Kindle 4 needs WiFi to download ebooks with.

    I am not sure what this ereader costs in Canada, but in the USA (if you can buy the version that has advertisements on the Hibernation page thus not in the body of the ebooks) it costs about $79, which is remarkably good value for such a neat ereader.
    As I am not in the USA, I had to pay more for this ereader and get the non-advertising version, and you may well be in the same situation.

    Whilst the Kobo was until recently, a purely Canadian ereader, with a pretty good ebook store behind it, as an ereader it is not as good as the Kindle 4.

    The Kindle 4 has all the things you would need to be able to read in comfort, a large range of font sizes, from tiny to absurdly large, a reasonable selection of different font types and word spacing on the screen too.

    It isn’t a touch screen,, which some would consider a draw back, but if you mainly want to simply read ebooks and not indulge in a lot of text highlighting and adding notes and similar, which to be honest is a clumsy affair with the onscreen keyboard, then it is a perfectly good and very user friendly device for reading ebooks on.

    It has become known as the Kindle 4, but Amazon refer to it as the Kindle Keyboard , but if you go to Amazons Kindle website, it is the cheapest one there, so easy to find.

    So, I hope this is a help. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to give me a shout and I shall do my best to help you.

    As to your thoughts about ereaders and us oldies (I am 69), I agree with you more or less. But in fact, the way most ereaders can give you large fonts, have a good contrasting screen, so the text is clear and easy to see, and are becoming much easier to use in the matter of obtaining your ebooks, they are sort of meeting our special needs.

    Ereaders, such as the Kindles have got to the point that it is pretty easy to use, which was the main problem before, all that needing a computer to find ebooks, downloading them onto your computer and then transferring them to your ereader was a bit of a problem for many elderly folk I know, but that is almost all gone now, and ereaders such as the latest Kindles and Sony ereaders are really pretty good to use even for non-computer people. But the Kindle is really the easiest currently and one of the cheapest too.

  19. JJ

    Hi Tony,
    My 86-year old mother is a voracious reader who has expressed an interest in an ereader. Her hands shake and are weak and arthritic. I would like to know which Kindle would be easiest for her to operate. I am concerned about the different keyboard options in the Kindle 3, Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch versions. My mother’s vision is not an issue as much as her physical weakness, which is the reason she wants an ereader. I do not care to purchase a Nook. I would like to purchase the Kindle for her as soon as possible. Any suggestions? Thanks so much for any help you can offer!

  20. Tony Post author

    @ JJ
    I think that you would probably do best to select the Kindle Touch for your Mother. The keyboard on the Kindle 3 is horrible, way too small for her to work with in any degree of comfort, and the Kindle 4, a non- touch screen ereader, has a very clumsy virtual keyboards, which you use by moving the cursor around by means of the D button on the front of the ereader.

    The Touch obviously has a proper virtual keyboard that you use in the same way as any other touch screen device, such as a smart phone for example.

    It remains a clumsy business to a degree if one happens not to have full control over one’s hands. But how often will your mother want to write things in the Kindle?

    As to reading on it, simply superb, and getting ebooks couldn’t be simpler, as you will discover.

    I hope this is a help, and that she has much pleasure from her (future) Kindle.

  21. Pingback: Who Reads Books? « Weekly Update on Aging

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>