Helping older adults stay connected and safe

How can working adults help older loved ones solve support problems without being physically there?


All of us including specialists from are concerned about our elders. It is incredibly important that we protect them from the dangers of the COVID-19 virus, but as weeks become months, we also need to keep loneliness and depression at bay until we can be with them. Technology can provide a valuable resource to help our older population during this period of refuge at home. For many seniors, their computers and phones are their lifeline. But for others who rely heavily on younger, more tech-savvy relatives and friends to help them stay connected, technology can be a source of frustration.

With the social distance established, how can working adults help older loved ones solve support problems without being physically there? And, with criminals selling COVID-19-related scams targeting older adults, how can we help keep them safe?

These are pressing questions for many of us during this difficult time. Solutions will vary depending on many factors, including health, living situation, and the comfort of your parents or friends with the technology. Some advice will be perfect for one group, not so appropriate for others.

Considering the scope of the exercise, here are some tips you can use to help mature demographics with technology issues when navigating during the pandemic

Keep it simple: this is not the time for extensive technology upgrades or complicated downloads. If your loved one is more comfortable with text than an email, or vice versa, make most of your written communications that way. If they have a favorite application or website, don't strive to adopt other platforms, but rather help them better navigate solutions that fit their comfort level.

Use applications to connect: There are all kinds of options online for talking to family and friends, and some are very easy to use. Zoom, for example, does not require a download to participate in a video call. Seniors only need to click on a link, and if the moderator sets the video and audio settings to load automatically, everything will appear. FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp also provide easy ways to communicate with groups and are as easy to join as accepting a call. This is a good opportunity for younger relatives and technology experts to help coordinate a series of Zoom calls with their grandparents' network of friends. As additional support, help set them up with "Gallery View" before the call so they can see everyone and don't have to figure it out themselves once the call starts.

Spend a little extra time - If your parents or older friends are having problems with the computer, they'll probably feel discouraged too. Find time to listen to these concerns and guide them through a solution that fits their needs. Spend an extra 5 minutes helping them set up a Zoom call before the call starts so they don't feel rushed or discouraged when others join in. Be sure to consider the extra time it will take to help them set up so that everything goes smoothly and you don't leave everyone feeling frustrated. Better yet, encourage your children (their grandchildren) to call them separately and guide them through the technology setup process, this creates practical support and the added benefit of spending time with the family.

My mother wears a hearing aid, so guiding her through the different functions of the technology platform so she knows when to mute/unmute and tell if someone else is talking to avoid misinterpretation or embarrassment is important. If changes or updates to hardware devices are needed, take the time to investigate these steps and share images if possible (send pictures of the instructions, preferably with a diagram pointing to the icon on the screen), call and guide them through the process directly, practicing patience as they seek to navigate the nuances of this new normal.