In this time of physical distancing, technology has been a steady resource enabling us to develop or continue to maintain and grow meaningful relationships with our loved ones through video calls on our phones, our computers and tablets, and other devices like smart displays. Despite the many options available to choose from to continue to stay connected to your family and friends, identifying the right tool for an older adult may be challenging and could depend on the budget, level of technology knowledge, and operating platforms (e.g. iOS vs. Android) used by the family.
For many older adults, a tablet is a great place to get started because of its large screen and portability (here’s an article with tips for buying a tablet for an older adult). We have a useful article to help people interested in purchasing their first tablet. Additionally to tablets, there are other technology options that can support older adults to stay connected.
Smart Displays such as the Google Nest Hubs or Echo Shows are more than just smart assistants. Both devices allow the user to connect seamlessly to family and friends through video by using voice. They are also great tools to set reminders (e.g. appointments), to save information to retrieve in the future (e.g. shopping list), or just simply to play their favourite music or listen to radio. Since the Smart Assistants use voice-commands, these devices are great for individuals with limited vision or reduced finger dexterity. The devices require Wi-Fi and initial set up with the use of a mobile phones or a tablet and both are compatible with Android and iOS devices.
Google Nest Hub uses Google Duo as a video communication platform. Google Duo can be downloaded by the call recipient on both Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. On the Echo Show, the user can call other Alexa devices or call mobile phones or landlines. With the right permissions in the Settings, Echo Show also has a functionality where you can “drop-in” and start the call automatically without the other person having to answer. Both devices allow the user to start a hands-free call by using their voice.
Smart Displays not only support with social connections but can also be used to control and interact with numerous smart devices. Smart lights, thermostats, door locks, smart cameras, and more can be added to the system to make the older adult’s life more convenient. For example, using a Google Nest Hub with a smart doorbell a visitor could be seen and talked to from anywhere in the home.
Facebook portal TV
Facebook Portal TV connects to your TV, displaying your video on the big screen. Portal can be used as a smart speaker and with Alexa Smart Assistant built in, users can video call family with WhatsApp or through Facebook messenger. For older adults who are already familiar with Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, the Facebook Portal TV will be easy to use. Facebook portal TV can be installed discretely on top or below the TV and the unit lets you disable or slide the camera closed and mute the microphone for privacy when not in use. Facebook Portal TV offers a great way to connect older adults with grandchildren with the Story Time app which allows users to narrate children’s stories in the video calls, with costumes projected on the screen with augmented reality for stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and more.
Joy for all companion pets
Joy for All Companion Pets are not the typical social connection device but these pets were designed to bring companionship to older adults and individuals who are no longer able to care for a pet. Their life-like movements and sounds provide a deep sense of comfort and security for their owners. Users can pet the dog or cat and even brush them—taking care of a pet has never been this easy. The cat purrs and the dog woofs with life-like vibrations to provide tactile stimulation for the older adult. The companion pets are available for dog lovers, as a Labrador retriever puppy and the cat fanciers, in Grey, tuxedo (black and white) and Marmalade (orange).
Social Connection has always been an important part of our well-being but as we physically distance it is more important than ever to stay connected to our older loved ones who are at a higher risk of social isolation. As Senior Living residences are under lockdown protocol for safety, technology can support the older adult and family members to stay connected and combat social isolation. There are many devices (including the ones mentioned above, tablets and more) and tools out there to support older adults and families to get started on learning about what technology may be best for them, how to use the technology, and identify ways to integrate the new technology into the older adult’s and family’s daily communication to make social connection easier while physical distancing.