How can you support the loved ones in your life who are now more homebound than ever? Technology can help. Well before today’s pandemic, high-tech options were already offering seniors new ways of living well at home longer. Getting someone up and running on the right tools now can make a world of difference.
On a good day, loneliness is a major struggle for seniors. Stats Can says as many as 1.4 million elderly Canadians report feelings of loneliness. Eliminating existing connection points through social distancing can push loneliness into overdrive.
A simple video chat can ease loneliness fast. Almost 60% of Canadians over 65 own a smart phone and even better: 93% consider their phones easy to use. If you’re not already using video chat technology to keep in touch, now’s the time to start. So, share a virtual meal. Set up a time to talk about what you’re hearing in the news or how you’ve spent your days. Video chatting makes it possible to spend time together without being together.
Also, this: video chats reveal a wealth of visual cues that can help you understand how someone’s really doing. Are they dressed appropriately? How clean or organized does their room look? What’s their body language saying? You can tell a lot about your loved one’s wellbeing – now, or later in a post COVID-19 world – by spending just a few minutes together via video.
Getting seniors using the technology in new ways can also do a lot for their general wellness. Using social technology (think email, social networking sites, online video/phone calls, online chatting/instant messaging, and smart phones) has been linked to better self-rated health, fewer chronic illnesses, higher subjective well-being and fewer depressive symptoms in seniors.
That makes sense. Picture your loved one watching an online cooking class for simple meals they can make on their own; virtually touring a far-away museum; or connecting with relatives overseas. Technology underpins connectedness and enables anyone trapped at home for any reason to maintain interests, learn something new, and feel like they’re part of a bigger community.
With six in 10 Canadians over the age of 65 already having a Facebook account, odds are your loved may be more tech savvy than you think. Spending a few minutes helping them deep dive into features or platforms they might not know about can help them explore new things, and be a good distraction from today’s sometimes scary headlines.
True, too, for empowering seniors with new apps that can help them feel safer and more secure. If you’re not already using apps to help seniors maintain their independence, this is a good opportunity to start.
Looking to turn a phone’s camera lens into a heart rate monitor that gives a reading in 10 seconds or less? No problem. Hoping for an app that reminds someone to take – and refill – their prescriptions while flagging potentially dangerous drug combinations? You got it. A ton of apps exist to help seniors monitor their health through technology. Many are built with the caregiver in mind, geared to send you updates or notifications. A made-in-Canada DementiaTalk app even allows you to track someone’s behaviour and adjust your care plan accordingly based on symptoms. Start by narrowing down where you’d like app support, and then check out consumer or industry lists of top-rated options.
While you’re at it, don’t forget about smart home assistants. Whether you’re a Google Home fan, or an Amazon Alexa convert, this type of hands-free, voice-activated technology can be a good resource for a senior who’s stuck at home. From listening to the news and playing voice-activated games to more urgent uses (like asking the assistant to call a relative in an emergency), this can be a good bridge for anyone housebound.
You might also consider using the assistant to help the senior in your life order a new book or groceries while minimizing human interaction, and eliminating the need to leave the house.
There are a lot of unknowns today. As the situation evolves quickly, technology can help us navigate uncertainty, get what we need, and learn new ways of maintaining independence that are helpful now, and will remain so in future. Assessing where your gaps are, and working back from there to the tech best suited to help can make a difference.