Isolation and depression are two very common characteristics of aging. Many people lose touch with their friends and social networks due to a variety of reasons. First, as everyone ages, it is normal to experience a decline in mobility, and many people stop driving at some point. In addition to the logistical challenges of getting out of the house, there may be pain and discomfort associated with certain health conditions, insecurity in going out with a walking aid, and an increased apprehension about navigating city streets. Second, the social experience changes when there are issues in hearing ability or cognitive function, both of which directly affect the quality of conversations. Lastly, friends and social networks dissipate as people move into assisted living residences or to be closer to their family members.
All of these factors lead to the premise that it takes more effort to stay social as one ages. However, social interaction can have a huge impact on one’s well-being, and we believe it is well worth the effort! In this article, we suggest ways to use technology to stay in touch with family and friends in order to reduce isolation and to increase overall mood and well-being. All of the suggestions below presume that there is wi-fi available in the home. Not convinced about getting wi-fi? Read our previous post on why having wi-fi in the home is a must.
Probably, the simplest way for someone to keep in touch with family and friends is through email. Setting up a personal email account with providers, such as Gmail or Outlook, is relatively simple. Perhaps, they can get a little help with setup and introductory training from a family member if they have not used email in the past.
Facebook is one of the predominant tools for social networking online. For a senior who is already internet-savvy, Facebook provides a structure for them to communicate with family/friends and to receive updates on what everyone is up to. With some training, they can even learn to post videos and photos of their own! Once they have joined, there are endless groups and forums that they can join to engage in group discussions on a wide variety of topics.
Nothing is simpler than an old-fashioned phone call, but if you would like your loved one to be able to see you and you to see them, Skype is one of the best tools to do this. Does your loved one have grandchildren who live out of town? Skype will allow your loved one to have free video chats with anyone in the world using an internet connection and a computer or mobile device. Other options include Apple FaceTime and Google Hangouts.
Virtual Seniors Centres
An emerging concept that hasn’t become widespread yet but has potential is an online social platform for seniors to connect as if they were attending a seniors centre in person. The ones that currently exist provide a platform for video chats, online news, and classes/programs. Members join classes as if they were attending in person, but it is really just a video call that seniors take from the comfort of their own home. Microsoft has partnered with Selfhelp Community Services in New York in creating a demonstration project for a virtual seniors centre. Window to the World is a new startup project that offers a variety of ways for seniors to stay connected through its current pilot program.
Until virtual seniors centres become more commonplace, have your loved one try out online learning! There are many online learning sites out there. Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn are all great options. Many of the courses are free and can be taken at their own pace.
If your loved one has a smartphone, there are a variety of apps available to help seniors stay social while keeping their brains sharp. Some games are designed to be played with other users, such as Scrabble, Draw Free (which is like Pictionary), and SongPop (which is like Name-That-Tune). Quiz Up is a social trivia game where users compete with each other on a large number of popular culture topics. A search on the App Store or Google Play will reveal many other apps and games to help your loved one stay connected. If your loved one needs a little help getting started, help them download the app and show them how to play. Before you know it, they might be challenging you on a triple word score!
As you can see, there are numerous ways for seniors to stay connected from the comfort of their own home. While it is hard to beat a face-to-face lunch or a warm hug, those who are mobility challenged or with family members living globally can really benefit from these tools.