Helping Elderly Family & Friends with Online Communication

Over the last few years, I’ve written a few times about senior citizens and technology. There is no better time than right now to figure out how you can connect with those whom you love or care about (and not just seniors!) since there are a lot of lonely and isolated people during this pandemic time.

I’d expect that you certainly don’t want your parents, grandparents, elderly family members, or other seniors — who, without question, are our most vulnerable during this pandemic and will be the last to go out or connect with others in person — to be even lonelier or more isolated than ever before!

Many people have commented on those posts of mine, but even more have used my contact form to reach out to me directly and asked questions, provided solutions they had or knew about, or reinforced my belief that online communication with others can really help.

HMM…MAYBE I COULD HELP HER?

This past week a woman sent me a long message which started off with this:

Hi Steve, I found your blog after realizing I will probably need to purchase something for my father (and mother who has dementia) to do video calls. Like you talked about in your blog it has to be as easy as turning on a device, make sure wifi is connected, and just clicking 1 button (only) to call me. The device can’t be small because Dad has vision and hearing problems. No extra apps, etc.

She also mentioned these requirements:

  • My dilemma is that I myself am disabled, and cannot easily go to a store to buy a device, set it up, pack it up and then ship it to him.
  • I also don’t want to spend over, let’s say $300-350.
  • Also, the device can’t be fidgety like a small tablet.
  • Anyway, if you have any other ideas that could fall in or below my price range, I’d love to hear. Esp if it’s geared toward disabled/seniors (e.g. big buttons/keypad/screen). It literally has to be visually and aurally very usable, clear, and with no quirky gadgets.

I thought it might be helpful for you to read most of my response to her since the solution I recommended to her might help you too.

PLEASE NOTE: I know there are a lot of other tablets, devices, and cheaper solutions, so no need to pick apart my suggestion below. Make your own suggestions in the comments.

One other consideration is this: Unless you’ve done what I’ve done in the past — set up laptops, computer towers, tablets, IP-and-mobile phones and other devices for seniors, all while coaching them on their use — then please understand that I’m hypersensitive to the need for something that just works, is easy to set up and easy for seniors to use. That is what I’ve suggested below with my recommendation.

MY RECOMMENDED SOLUTION

Hello __________,

As far as easy video calling is concerned, there are a lot of solutions. Many of those solutions need too much customization and learning, however, and you indicated that the most important thing is to make it EASY for your folks to use. I’ll add to that another imperative: A device to give them that YOU don’t have to perform a lot of maintenance on over time. (By the way, they DO have WiFi in their home, right? If not, they’ll need a good internet connection with WiFi, obviously).

Before answering your questions, I thought-through possible solutions that included an Android tablet, a Google Chromebook, or as you described an old laptop. All could be done, but I’ve dealt with so many seniors that get befuddled easily that there is no question the simpler and easier the better.

As such, I recommend the iPad for a whole host of reasons (and the one I recommend below also fits within your price range).

THE DEVICE
Apple iPad 10.2″: This is the most popular iPad and its built-in FaceTime is very easy to use (my wife and I have elderly family members using iPads and FaceTime, as well as other non-tech-savvy folks in the family).

The best part is, based on your description of what you need, is that the entry-level price point, the 32GB model, is $329 plus tax. NOTE: If you only have one app on the iPad (or even a handful at some point later on) the 32GB model is more than enough storage space.

You can easily set up an iPad for accessibility and no one does this better than Apple. You can make text HUGE, modify the display for the visually impaired, have text spoken to them, and much more.

Most importantly, you can choose ONE, SINGLE APP (like your chosen video calling app) to be the only one they can use: Kiosk Mode: How to Lock Your iPad to a Single App.

As far as YOU are concerned and some sort of tech-support you might have to provide, Apple has made it so you can easily set up this iPad (or any of their iOS devices) to both automatically update apps AND automatically update the operating system itself!

Lastly, if you want to enable your Dad to use other apps at some point, there is a nice tutorial app (or he can set up an appointment at the Apple Store when they resume coming in to the stores) to better learn how to use the device: iPad app called Easy Tablet Help for Seniors.

CASES
You’ll likely want to get a good case — always choose carefully to ensure it will fit the iPad 10.2″ — and are ones that are both tough and easy to use. Something like one of these:

a) LTROP case is available in colors, very durable, and has a handle (and is only $15).

b) BRENTHAVEN’s case is a bit more money at $35, but it also acts as a much better stand than the LTROP, so is more stable when on a hard surface or table.

c) Here is an Amazon search of many more durable cases.

STANDS
You may want to get a stand so they can leave it plugged in and maybe talk to you with it on the kitchen table or something. It gets pretty hard to hold for any length of time and keep the camera from bouncing all over the place (it’s nice to see people on a FaceTime call!):

a) I own this larger stand for sitting on my desk next to my iMac as it’s really sturdy.

b) I also own this small one we use in the kitchen and on our dining room table when we FaceTime with family and friends:

c) Here is an Amazon search of many more tablet stands.

So that was most of my response to her and hope it helps her make a decision … and possibly helps you, or someone else, get connected to others!

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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