This just happened the other day. Let me tell you about it, and then we’ll get to video conferencing for seniors — The elderly father of a friend of mine had heard from a fellow veteran that their old favorite radio station from back in the day was now available on TuneIn. Excited, the gentleman downloaded the app — so far so good, right?
But wasn’t it supposed to be free? When the senior veteran opened the app, all he could see was a full-screen TuneIn ad asking him to buy a membership. He’d never experienced this common snag (it’s not unique to that one app) that can be easily solved by finding the little “X” in one or the other corner of the ad, and tapping on it to clear out the ad and view the inside of the app itself.
Once my friend showed his dad this little trick, he said, “My father chuckled like he’d just started up a ’67 Stingray and drove it right out of the junkyard.”
It’s an illustration of a point that makes a difference to a great many people — not all of us are lucky enough to have been taught internet technology and navigation in school. People of the older generation in the U.S. today are often caught on their heels when it comes to knowing (or not knowing) the ins and outs of electronic life.
Here today, we’ll pick out from that vast arena one area, video conferencing, and shed some light on the things that might make it easier — or at least less difficult — for seniors to access this important keeping-in-touch technology.
Video Conferencing for Seniors — The Basics
In the age of Covid, it’s easy to see the benefit of this particular advance in technology. Sadly, many souls have passed on without their families present, due to the contagion of the disease. But many have also at least been able to see their children’s and grandchildren’s faces on a screen using a video conferencing app like Skype or Zoom. I’m sure you’ll agree that this option is better than a phone call, and certainly better than waiting for a letter or card in the mail.
But it’s not all about end of life, either. Video conferencing can be used in your family for celebrations, commemorations, and daily conversations, in a way that’s simply not possible in writing or over the phone. Interactions happen in real time, allowing users to gauge facial expressions, body language, and other subtleties. Just think — those “Dad jokes” that don’t even get a groan via email? — They’ll get heard loud and clear.
In addition, there are actually measurable health benefits to video conferencing for seniors who are otherwise isolated. Statistics show that the chances of major depression increase in the elderly the further removed from a home situation they are — meaning nursing care facilities, and God forbid, hospitalization. Regular social interaction like face-to-face time with friends and family using a video conferencing app or site has been shown to reduce a person’s chances of contracting depression. Yes, it’s still just a step above a phone call, but it’s a big step. Many seniors report that the laughter and tears shared via conferencing are a large part of what makes them feel like they’re still close to their families.
Health benefits aside, imagine something like a birthday celebration where family members are hundreds or thousands of miles apart — you practically need video just to keep up with how fast the little ones in your family are growing! And business meetings — they might be called for even after your retirement, as in the case of your stock broker passing down the mantle to a colleague upon his or her own retirement, or facilitating the sale of one of your properties in a remote location, the possibilities are numerous.
But of course, that means you’ve got to know how to operate the app or website you’ll be using. Say your son or daughter isn’t available to help you with the finer details. Where do you start?
Skype for Seniors
If you’ve always suspected that Bill Gates has a hand in just about everything, the video-conferencing app Skype won’t change your mind. It’s one of the oldest and most popular video-calling methods out there, and it was developed by — you guessed it — Microsoft.
You’ve seen newscasters welcome guests to speak over Skype, a testament to its reliability, but what about regular folks? How does Skype stand up in terms of video conferencing for seniors? The app is a free download on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and all you need to get going is an email address. Once you register, you’ll have a chance to let Skype sync with your contact list, to see who you know that also has the app.
Our testers found that starting from the ground up with Skype was a relatively smooth process, with one possible caveat — it can be a little tricky to find someone you want to call from among your contacts and actually put through the outgoing connection. One way to get around this is to locate your own “Skype ID” and give it to your loved one over the phone so they can Skype you — then, all you have to do is answer the call.
We’ve found an added bonus with this app as well, one that a lot of seniors will appreciate especially if they’re hard of hearing. On Skype, you have the option of activating real-time captions and subtitles, ensuring that you don’t miss a word. If there’s one thing Microsoft does well, it’s voice recognition, so don’t worry too much about mistranslated words or phrases. Just get ‘er fired up, and enjoy.
FaceTime for Seniors
The good news about FaceTime is that it boasts some pretty amazing video quality, with audio to match. The bad news is that it’s only available on Apple machines — Mac computers, iPads, and iPhones. But if you are a Mac user, FaceTime is built in and relatively easy to use. Your contacts are automatically present when you open FaceTime, because they’re stored right on your device, with no intermediary app that has to be opened to access them.
Up to 32 users can share a single FaceTime meeting — that’s a party! And another advantage, if you’re on your iPhone, you can simply ask Siri to make the call for you, as in, “Siri, FaceTime Suzannah.” We know the broad reach of Bill Gates, but the inventiveness of the late Steve Jobs can’t be ignored, either. We like how FaceTime is integrated, making it unnecessary to visit the App Store to download your video conferencing app. In terms of intuitiveness and ease of use even for the non-tech-savvy, this one’s a winner.
Zoom for Seniors
The year 2020 saw a massive increase in the number of Zoom users worldwide, and we think this videoconferencing method is worth the attention it’s gotten. Professionals and everyday users alike have flocked to this straightforward and no-nonsense app.
Zoom can be the equivalent of a small auditorium, with the capability to host up to 100 attendants in a single meeting. Every kind of group, from musicians to office personnel to support and awareness groups has come to rely on Zoom. The way to invite people to an on-screen meeting is a little different with Zoom than with Skype or FaceTime; you hit the “New Meeting” button and you’re given a reference number, which you can then share with your desired meeting members via email or text. They log on to Zoom, enter the number, and pow, they’re right there on your screen.
Zoom offers a “phone-in” option too, in case you’re nervous about being on camera or simply aren’t near your video-capable device. Also, in recognition of the vast range of users they’ve attracted and the needs of those users, Zoom has put up a very simple support page, with easy-to-find links to remote working tips, strategies on educating over Zoom for teachers, how to host an online event, and more. Of particular interest to seniors may be the “Telehealth” button, which opens to blog posts, data sheets, and a webinar, all of which are geared to taking the anxiety and discomfort out of meeting with your doctor electronically.
Chances are that you’ve already participated in a Zoom meeting or two. But even if you’re unfamiliar, don’t be afraid. Zoom founder, Chinese-born American billionaire Eric Yuan has made his software especially user-friendly, and the company is taking further steps in that direction all the time. Flex your fingers, log on, and have fun chatting with colleagues, friends, family members, and your associated professionals.
Bonus Hardware Review — The GrandPad
Lest anyone be forgotten, the people at work behind the registered-trademark GrandPad have made it even easier for seniors to stay on top of their online presences. This is, on the surface, a tablet like any other, giving its owner the ability to check email, stream video, listen to music, check forecasts, and more.
The good part though, is the GrandPad’s companion app. When both the senior owner of the machine and his or her family members have the app downloaded and activated, the loved ones can send pictures, videos, and more directly to the GrandPad owner’s screen without the hassle of email attachments or downloading from the cloud, and with none of the intricate lists, drop-downs, and pop-ups those things can entail. The materials appear right on the GrandPad as soon as they’re sent. How’s that for keeping in touch?
Video Conferencing for Seniors Summary
We hope this takes away some of the fear and trepidation that seniors may feel when faced with the idea of video conferencing. Just remember, read every little thing that pops up on your screen. Take the time to discern whether it’s an ad or an important message, and react accordingly.
Also, as fast as computers and other devices have become over the years, let your machine “think” a minute when you give it a command; fast is not the same thing as instantaneous. If nothing seems to be happening, give it a few seconds. Command piled on top of command before your device has a chance to respond to the first one can lead to a frustrating bogging down of the system.
Aside from that advice, relax and enjoy the (remote) company of your loved ones. And feel free to share any successes or challenges in the comment section here. Good luck!