How Seniors Can Use Technology to Stay Connected With Kids and Grandkids During Physical Distancing.
“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children,” said Alex Haley, former senior editor of Reader’s Digest. Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from these intergenerational relationships. Experts tell us that when you’re active in your grandchild’s life, you will feel less lonely and isolated. But with physical distancing, it’s more complicated to sprinkle that grandparent love around. You may be limited in your physical contact with your family right now, but you are not limited with technology. There is a ton of technology for seniors that helps boost personal connections. However, with everything from apps for grandparents to family websites, the possibilities can be overwhelming — that’s why we narrowed the list down to our favorites.
1849 Technology Is All Grown Up
The telephone was first invented in 1849 — but it’s advanced quite a bit since then. Through their “Grandparents Today” survey, AARP learned that 73% of grandparents own a smartphone, and 46% connect with loved ones primarily through telephone calls. If you have multiple grandkids, you could be making phone calls all day — unless you use three-way calling or conference calling on your cellphone. It’s a simple process.
Call your first grandchild, and let them know you will be calling others and to hold on.
Press the “add call” or “+” icon on your screen. It will pull up your address book. Select the next grandkid and call them. Let them know you will be calling more of their cousins and siblings. You can usually add up to five people from your address book using this step.
Once you have everybody on the line, press the “merge calls” icon. Voila! — it’s a family reunion with your grandchildren on the phone.
Phone calls aren’t the only way to use your cellphone though.
Great Apps for Grandparents
Friendsview resident Darlene says, “To stay connected, I use the phone, email, messenger, text messaging, Zoom, Google Hangout, What’sApp and livestreaming for worship … I am so very, very thankful we have these tools. The pandemic of 1918 must have been so horrid and isolating.”
The Grandparents Today survey mentions that 28% of seniors text with grandchildren, and 24% use video chat — so other seniors are using technology like Darlene. These are the highest-rated apps for seniors connecting with loved ones:
- Marco Polo. Download Marco Polo from the app store on your device and create an account (a quick process). Record a video with one push of a button to share with your grandkids. They can respond with a video of their own, pictures or text messages. There is no limit to how many videos you are able to share. Of all the apps, people rate this one high on the “user-friendly” scale.
- WhatsApp. This is another downloadable program from the app store and is a favorite with international users. You can send text messages, video chat, share pictures and more. WhatsApp is also available on your computer; you don’t have to use a smartphone.
- Grandy. Grandy is a low-cost app specifically geared toward helping loved ones stay connected with seniors. Schedule visits to engage with kids or share digital postcards with photos and videos. They provide family-friendly onboarding, support, and a private and safe environment without data-sharing or ads.
- FaceTime or Google Hangouts. For Apple users, FaceTime is a familiar program to video chat with family and friends and something we use frequently at Friendsview. Residents who don’t have an iPad or iPhone can schedule a time with our staff to FaceTime with their loved ones on a regular basis. For Android lovers, the equivalent is called Google Hangouts. Hangouts is also compatible with your PC and even Mac computers.
Put the Social in Social Media
About 18% of grandparents use Facebook for social interaction. Facebook Messenger allows you to send text messages, share pictures, and even interact in real time through audio and video calls. When surveyed, 42% of grandparents “like” the idea of using social media to engage.
Board Games with Grandma and Grandpa Are Still Possible (Virtually)
With social interactions in flux due to the spread of COVID-19, family board game night at Grandma’s isn’t possible. However, thousands of gaming apps and consoles allow for playing traditional games virtually. Whether it’s Yahtzee with Friends, Words with Friends, or even Monopoly, you can start a game with your grandkids and play on your own schedule. The classic Hasbro games are available to download on your computer or smart device, along with a slew of new ones. A simple search in the app store on your phone will help you find your favorites. After you and your family members create your own usernames, let the games begin.
For Those Wanting to Go the Extra Mile
While searching for fun things to do with seniors is easy, not everyone is comfortable with social media and other public platforms because of security concerns. So why not encourage your family to go the extra step and create a family website? You can make it private and tailored especially for your family. There are free and paid platforms that have templates to choose from so there is no coding or special website knowledge needed. Even if you don’t set it up, but someone in your family does, all you have to do is go to the website to view photos, family calendars and virtual appointments and know that it’s just for you and those you choose. You can host art and writing competitions, play games, and engage in a whole new way on your site. If you have older grandkids, this can even be something they research with you and partner together to create. With a loved one living far away or in a senior living residence, this can be a great way to stay connected with seniors in your life.
It Really Does Matter
You may wonder if it really matters whether or not you should stay connected with loved ones via technology, or if you should just “wait out” the physical distancing restrictions because of COVID-19. The University of California, San Francisco, conducted a study and found that over 40% of seniors experience loneliness on a regular basis, which can result in serious health concerns. Americans in general are experiencing record high levels of depression due to physical distancing. What this tells us is something we already know: Community matters. Connection matters. Engaging with your grandkids benefits both you and them. So why not use the resources available to be an active grandparent in your family community? One of Friendsview’s most beloved values is community. We place a very high priority on valuing “each resident, staff member, and board member as a full member of our community acknowledging the light of Christ in each person.” You can read more about our mission and how we value relationships.
Nikki Deckon has been on staff at Friendsview since 2018 in various roles and in long term care for several years. Before working with seniors, she wrote/produced hundreds of talk radio programs and vignettes; was published in a couple of editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul and other print publications including The Oregonian, Kids NW, The Sun and more. After twenty years of marriage she feels that she’s still in the “honeymoon” phase and is enjoying raising her teenage boys in Newberg, a mere two miles from Friendsview.