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How to Connect With Seniors in Assisted Living Using Technology

Blog

April 16, 2020

Senior Living

BY Alex Lynn

If these unprecedented times have taught us anything, it's how valuable modern technology can be for connecting with our loved ones, and especially those in senior care! Whether they're in an assisted living community or another form of distant long-term care, having so much technology at our fingertips to help us connect with our senior family members is a blessing.

Here, we'll cover the best tools and platforms that make it easy to reach out to your loved ones in senior living communities. But first, let's talk about why we're focusing on technology.

Why Technology?

We all know about the value of social distancing during COVID-19. For those of us with family members in assisted living homes or a retirement community, the current focus on isolation makes it nearly impossible to visit family or make that meaningful, personal connection. The resulting isolation and feelings of loneliness can be troublesome for older adults in particular. (We've blogged about this before.)

That's why it's crucial to keep our aging spouses, parents, and grandparents connected and engaged. Fortunately, we can use modern technology to do it.

Senior Citizens, Connecting, Assisted Living, Technology

Preventing Social Isolation & Loneliness

Loneliness is more than mere emotion. Isolation can bring on feelings of depression and exacerbate issues that negatively affect your loved one's quality of life, such as:

  • sleeplessness
  • stress
  • anxiety

And it can even result in blood pressure problems and weight issues. 

At Weatherly Inn, we recognize that technology is never a complete replacement for human touch or time spent face-to-face with your family. However, it can be the perfect tool to bridge the gap and keep our seniors engaged during these unusual times. Think of it as a supplement, not a cure.

We also recognize that introducing new technology to seniors can be a bit challenging. But with time and practice, your older family member will get better at it. And many enjoy the fresh challenge of a new device! The trick is to find the right technology and install your favorite tools on them.

Easy-to-Use Tech for Seniors: The Best Devices and Platforms for Seniors

There are plenty of senior-friendly technology devices out there, but everyone has their preferences and unique needs.

Before you start shopping, consider specifics about your family member that might affect their choice in devices like:

  • Vision issues — many devices have options for extra-large text displays. If your loved one wears reading glasses, look for this amenity.
  • Shaking, instability, or tremors - if your family member struggles with tremors, small smartphones might not be the best choice. Your loved one might prefer a more substantial device like a tablet, laptop, or even a traditional desktop PC.

Smartphones vs. Laptops

Most smartphones are relatively small, easily lost, and easily damaged. Not to mention expensive! Smartphones, iPhones, and cell phones can be a good choice if your family member is well-versed in technology, has excellent vision and memory, and doesn't struggle with shaking or tremors. 

Senior Citizens, Connecting, Assisted Living

Laptops are more substantial. They're less likely to get dropped or lost in the furniture. And they may be easier to navigate, especially if they are using programs like Google. 

Or, choose the middle road and buy a large tablet for your family member. There are dozens of tablets available on the market. For seniors, we often suggest the Claris Companion as a great option.

The Claris Companion is a tablet device designed explicitly with aging adults in mind. You can set it up remotely by contacting Claris and have it shipped directly to your loved one. The whole process takes three or four days on average, and maybe a little longer during these interesting times.

Your family member can open the package and video chat with you immediately. The whole process is ideal if you're practicing social distancing and trying to avoid shopping trips.

Regardless of the device you choose, the most critical point is that the experience is simple for your loved one.

Tips to Create a Frustration-Free Tech Experience (For Both of You)

Roughly half of our senior population in the US are tech-savvy. In other words, there's a 50 / 50 chance this is the first time your family member is attempting to tackle technology, so keep that in mind. You'll need to be patient and optimistic while explaining how to use any new device, and it helps to set up the technology beforehand if you can.

When you're buying a new device or reviving an older one, turn it on and install whichever social media, video games, and activities you'd like to use to connect with your loved one. Get into the parental controls (it's usually in the "settings" section) and DISABLE PURCHASING. We wouldn't want your family member to charge up a bunch of money playing Candy Crush inadvertently.

  • The Pew Research Center published studies showing that small fonts and icons are the most significant barrier for seniors who would like to use technology.
  • So be sure to adjust fonts and icons to their largest size and make your favorite tools accessible before presenting it to your family member.

All this sounds excellent if you're a tech-savvy person, but what if you aren't? You've heard about social media but haven't had the time to sort it out. Consider trying these tools. Get a feel for them before you help your family member navigate them.

Examples of Great Tools for Connecting With Seniors in Assisted Living 

  • FaceTime is easy to use for video chatting. Explain to your loved one that it's like a phone call, but you can see each other. Know that one cannot "call" from a Windows laptop. If you and your senior family member will be using Windows laptops to communicate, you will want to check out Skype.
  • The Marco Polo App doesn't require that both parties are available to have the conversation. Think of it like video-texting. You'll use your smartphone to film your message, play with doodles and options, and send! The receiving person can watch the message at their convenience.
  • Snapchat is a mobile app for Android and iOS devices. If your family member struggles with reading and writing, this is a simple way to take pictures and send them back and forth. We must point out that any photo or video or messages you send are only available to the receiver for a short time (usually 10 seconds or less). If you think your family member might be frustrated by that, use a different app.

Social media sites like Facebook can be great, but they are always changing a little at a time. If you plan to try this route, create a profile for your family member and get it all set up, and connect it with others. You can create a unique email address just for Facebook, and a simple password that will be easy for your loved one to remember. That's the most seamless way to get them started.

Bridging the Isolation Gap — Prepare Ahead and Communicate With the Assisted Living Staff

Get in touch with the assisted living community or nursing home before you make any tech purchases or spend a lot of time downloading apps or creating profiles. You want to establish that your family member has access to WiFi or reliable internet service. Most of the video chat apps we mentioned above need streaming internet. They require a powerful signal.

  • Conversations with staff at the assisted living community may also help you understand which apps your loved one has shown interest in, or those being enjoyed most by his or her peers. 

Set Up Recurring Times to Communicate

Finally, the last bit of advice we could give to families looking to connect with their loved ones using modern tech is to plan recurring times for communication. Routines are beneficial, especially for Alzheimer's patients, or those in memory care for dementia. Knowing they'll get a chance to video chat with family at a specific time every day, or certain afternoons during the week gives them something to look forward to and cherish.

We hope you've enjoyed reading about the best technology to connect with seniors during these unprecedented times. If you'd like to learn more about our assisted living communities, memory care, or respite care options, or would like to hear about the tools and tech our seniors are using right now at Weatherly Inn, contact us today!

Related Reading & Resources:

McKnight Senior Living: How Technology Can Help Seniors Connect and Not Be Lonely

Forbes: 4 Ingenious Technologies to Help Aging Adults Stay Connected and Engaged

Pocketlint.com: How Does Snapchat Work and What's the Point?