My parents and grandparents started on the internet for AOL and spend 5+ years regularly using it, signing up for sites, giving out contact info, etc. before getting cable and 9 or more years before Gmail ever existed. My grandparents actually maintain email pretty well (delete what they don't need so smaller storage amount is OK) so they just use AOL via IMAP (switched to iPads as primary internet device).
One of my parents gave up the AOL mail (used another email more) and the other still uses their AOL address - but all email is pulled via POP into Gmail on a 5 minute basis (Greasemonkey script automates the fetch on that interval, clicking the refresh button in gmail will force a check sooner) and that is how she consumes it. This system works pretty well because you can switch even formerly paid AOL accounts to the free plan and not lose anything. This may eventually not become required because all outgoing email goes out via Gmail on the personal domain (Gmail for your Domain), so most people who would care to contact her have the new email address nowadays.