We’re living through the era of social distancing, but that means remote social contact is more important than ever. It can be particularly difficult for seniors to get over the technological hurdles that come with modern teleconferencing. But there are steps you can take to make sure your senior loved ones can stay in touch during these trying times.
The simplest teleconference solution is a basic laptop computer. Simple laptops can be bought for as little as $200, and almost all come with a camera and microphone built in. Alternatively, you could get a screen-based digital assistant, like the Google Home or Amazon Echo View. These also have cameras and microphones built in, but can be tricky to set up for someone who isn’t tech savvy.
If they already have a computer, then a basic USB webcam with built-in mic would be the best option. They’re inexpensive, plentiful, and generally very simple to set up.
Skype – One of the oldest teleconferencing programs, and one of the most common. However, it’s also finicky and it’s user interface can be daunting for inexperienced users. Save this for cases where it’s the only recourse.
Google Hangouts/Facebook Video Calling – Two very similar programs from the biggest tech companies on earth. Both are also among the easiest to use, and chances are your senior loved one already has an account on one, if not both, platforms.
Zoom – You’ve probably heard a lot about this program on the news lately. Tons of schools, business and even medical providers are using it to interact with people remotely. It’s a great bit of software, but it’s a little trickier to set up than the alternatives listed above. But, if there are kids or teens in your life, it may be worth the effort to get this up and running, since it’s becoming so ubiquitous and will make it easy for younger ones to keep in touch with their elders.
Ideally, you should set up & test the equipment on your own and either bring it to, or ship it to, your loved one. If you have to ship it, make sure a set of clear instructions are included with the device. If you can contact the facility to get the wifi password ahead of time, even better. Make sure there are as few icons on the computer desktop as necessary, and that the necessary teleconferencing app icons are front and center. You want the set up to be as close to “plug it in, turn it on, and click that icon” as possible. Don’t leave things like account creation and system updates for your senior loved one. Giving them a system which is fully set up and updated means they can hop onto video chats and reconnect with their family as quickly and easily as possible.
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