5 steps to setting up a family video call with an elderly relative

Do you have an elderly parent or relative who could benefit from family video calls?

One of the primary pillars of maintaining good health in the elderly is having regular contact with friends, family, and trusted individuals. Staying connected with loved ones is important for all of us, but especially for elderly relatives who may feel isolated and lonely. While a simple phone call may be quicker and enough for a check-in, family video calling can provide them with a lifeline of ‘face-to-face’ social interaction and support. However, it can also be a challenge for some elderly relatives who may not be familiar with technology and feel somewhat intimidated by it.

In this article, we will provide practical steps on setting up a family video call with an elderly relative, including tips on how to overcome common obstacles. By the end of this article, you will be equipped with the knowledge to connect with your elderly relatives through video calls, bridging the distance, and staying connected with your loved ones.

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Step 1: Choose a suitable video-calling platform

Several popular video conferencing platforms and video calling apps are available, each with unique features and limitations.  Some of the most popular video-conferencing platforms and video-calling apps in the UK include:

  • Zoom: This popular conferencing platform is widely used for business and personal video calls and allows users to make calls with up to 100 people. It’s available on both mobile and desktop devices but requires a paid subscription for calls longer than 40 minutes.
  • Skype: Skype has been around for a long time and has over 300 million active users worldwide. It is available on both mobile and desktop devices and offers free calls for up to 50 people. You need to create a Microsoft account or use an existing one to use Skype.
  • Facebook Messenger: This app allows users to make video calls with up to 50 people and is available on both mobile and desktop devices. It’s free and doesn’t require a separate account, but everyone must have a Facebook account.
  • FaceTime: This app is exclusive to Apple devices and allows users to make video calls with up to 32 people. It’s free but requires an Apple account and everyone participating on the call to have an apple device.
  • WhatsApp: This app is a popular choice for international video calls, as it uses end-to-end encryption and allows users to make calls with up to 8 people. It’s free to use and available on both mobile and desktop devices.

The key difference between video conferencing platforms or video calling apps are:

  • Group size: Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype allow for larger group sizes (up to 1000 participants) while video calling apps like WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger are limited to smaller group sizes (typically up to 8-10 people).
  • Features: Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype often offer more features such as screen sharing, virtual backgrounds, and recording options. Whereas, video calling apps like WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger typically offer fewer features.
  • Security: Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype have had some security concerns in the past, while video calling apps like WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Facebook Messenger are generally considered more secure.

Which one you choose will depend on a number of factors, one of the most important being the platform your elderly relative is most comfortable with and able to use easily. When choosing an or platform for setting up a video call with an elderly relative, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

  • User limits: Consider the number of people who will be participating in the video call and choose a platform that can accommodate the group size. Some platforms limit the number of users that can participate in a single call.
  • Cost: Most video calling platforms are free to use, but some, like Zoom, require the host to pay a subscription or a fee for longer calls or additional features. Consider the budget and the video call length / frequency when choosing a platform.
  • Internet strength: Ensure that the platform can operate with a weak internet connection, which can be a common issue for elderly relatives. Some platforms may require a stronger internet connection than others.
  • Elderly person account/security: Consider the platform’s ease of use and security features, particularly for elderly relatives who may be less familiar with technology. Some platforms may require creating an account, while others may allow users to join calls as guests. It’s important to choose a platform with strong security features to protect your elderly relative’s privacy.
  • User interface: Consider the platform’s user interface and choose one that is easy to navigate for both you and your elderly relative. Some platforms may have a more complex interface than others.

By considering these factors, you can choose a video calling platform suitable for the group size, frequency, budget, and individual needs of your elderly relative.

Step 2: Planning and timing

Schedule and availability

Choose a convenient time and date for the video call that works for both you, your family and your elderly relative. Consider their daily routine and any other commitments they may have, such as doctor’s appointments or social activities. Be flexible and willing to adjust the schedule to accommodate their needs.

Who will join the call, and how to invite them?

Determine who will participate in the video call, such as other family members or close friends. Send clear and concise instructions on how to join the video call, ideally in a calendar invite so that it automatically goes in their diaries, and they get an automatic reminder. Provide step-by-step instructions, including any necessary login information, meeting links, or passwords.

Guidelines for smooth communication

It’s important to establish guidelines for smooth communication during the video call. For example, encourage everyone to speak clearly and slowly, avoid interrupting each other, and give each person a chance to share their thoughts and stories. Consider using visual aids, such as photos or videos, to help facilitate the conversation and engage the elderly relative.

Be prepared to adapt

Be prepared to adapt to any changes during the video call. For example, if the elderly relative becomes tired or overwhelmed, take a break and resume the conversation later. If technical difficulties arise, troubleshoot the issue together or consider switching to a different video calling platform.

Planning and timing the video call carefully, inviting the right people, and establishing guidelines for smooth communication can ensure a positive and engaging experience for your elderly relative.

Step 3: Choosing and preparing the hardware

When choosing the hardware for a family video call with an elderly relative, consider their familiarity and comfort level with technology. Laptops, mobile phones, and tablets are all suitable devices for video calling.

Device options and specifications

Laptops are generally more comfortable for extended video calls due to having larger screens and keyboards. Tablets are also popular due to their portability and ease of use. Mobile phones are convenient but may have a smaller screen, making it more challenging for the elderly relative to see or hear during the call. When choosing the device, ensure it meets the minimum specifications required by the video calling platform.

Internet connectivity

It’s important to have a stable internet connection for a smooth and uninterrupted video call. Make sure that the device is connected to a high-speed Wi-Fi network, and if necessary, consider using a wired internet connection for better stability.

Audio and video settings

Before the video call, ensure the device’s audio and video settings are working correctly. Test the microphone and speakers to ensure the elderly relative can hear and speak clearly during the call. Adjust the video settings to ensure the lighting and background suit the call.

Choosing the right device and ensuring that the audio and video settings are working correctly allows you to create a comfortable and engaging video-calling experience for your elderly relative.

Step 4: Ensuring a smooth call

Addressing these common issues, ensuring a stable network connection, adjusting device settings, and finding a suitable environment can help ensure a smooth and engaging video call for your elderly relative.

Common issues and how to troubleshoot

Several issues may arise during a video call, such as poor audio or video quality, technical difficulties, or interruptions. To troubleshoot these issues, try the following:

  • Check internet connectivity: Ensure that the internet connection is stable and strong. If necessary, consider switching to a wired connection or relocating to an area with a better signal.
  • Adjust device settings: Check the device’s audio and video settings and adjust as necessary to improve the quality of the call.
  • Restart the device: Sometimes, simply restarting the device can resolve technical issues.

Network/Wi-Fi

A stable network or Wi-Fi connection is crucial for a smooth video call. If the elderly relative’s Wi-Fi signal is weak or there are network connectivity issues, try the following:

  • Move closer to the Wi-Fi router: If the elderly relative uses Wi-Fi, move the device closer to the Wi-Fi router to improve the signal strength.
  • Use a wired connection: For better stability, consider using a wired internet connection.
  • Restart the router: Restarting the Wi-Fi router can sometimes resolve connectivity issues.

Device settings

Adjusting the device’s audio and video settings can help improve the quality of the call. Ensure that the device’s microphone and speakers are working correctly, and adjust the video settings to ensure that the lighting and background are suitable for the call.

Background noise and environment

Background noise or a distracting environment can make it difficult to hear or concentrate during the call. Encourage your elderly relative to find a quiet, well-lit area for the call and consider using headphones or a microphone to improve audio quality.

Step 5: Follow-up and ongoing communication

After the video call, reflect on the experience and ask your elderly relative for feedback. Consider what worked well and what could be improved for future calls.

  • Plan for future calls: Based on the feedback and experience from the previous video call, plan for future calls with your elderly relative. Consider the calls’ frequency, time, and duration and adjust as necessary.
  • Alternative ways to stay in touch: Video calling is not the only way to stay in touch with elderly relatives. Consider alternative ways to stay in touch, such as phone calls, text messages, or sending letters. Additionally, consider purchasing a dedicated video calling device,  which can allow ‘drop in’ calling and make video calls easier and more accessible for elderly relatives.
  • Check-in regularly: Regular communication is key to maintaining a sense of connection and support for your elderly relative. Check-in regularly, even if it’s just a quick phone call or message to say hello and ask how they’re doing.

By reflecting on the experience, planning for future calls, considering alternative ways to stay in touch, and checking in regularly, you can maintain a strong and meaningful relationship with your elderly relative.

In summary

Regular family communication with elderly relatives is essential for maintaining a strong and meaningful relationship, but can be challenging to do from a distance in today’s fast-paced world. Family video calling is a convenient and accessible way to bridge the distance to stay in touch with elderly relatives and provide them with much-needed support and social connection. It can also bring you reassurance about their health and wellbeing.

By connecting with your elderly relatives regularly through family video calling, you can help combat social isolation, promote mental and emotional well-being, and strengthen your family bond. It might take a little bit of coordination and effort on your part, but it can have a huge impact on your elderly relative. It shows that you care about them and are willing to take steps to improve their quality of life and give them a sense of belonging. It also helps your elderly relative get comfortable using video calling technology, which can open up possibilities for them to stay connected with other friends, family and communities.

Common questions

Why is it important to set up family video calls with elderly relatives?

Setting up family video calls with elderly relatives is important for many reasons. It allows them to maintain family bonds and a sense of belonging, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness which can negatively affect their mental and physical health. Video calling allows family members to check in on their elderly relatives, ensuring their well-being and safety. It also provides an opportunity to share updates, stories, and memories, maintaining a sense of family connection and history. Family video calls can improve the quality of life for elderly relatives and strengthen family relationships.

How can I choose the best video-calling platform for my elderly relative?

To choose the best video calling platform for your elderly relative, consider factors such as ease of use, availability on their device, good video and audio quality, security and privacy features, and technical support. The platform should be easy to navigate, available on their device, provide clear audio and video even with weak internet connections, have secure login features, and offer technical support in case of difficulties. Considering these factors, you can choose a user-friendly and accessible platform that provides good-quality video calls while protecting their privacy and ensuring technical support.

Alternatively, if your elderly relative struggles with the technology of using a computer, tablet or smartphone for video calls, you may want to look into buying a specific “drop in” video calling device that allows them to make and receive video calls with minimal setup.

How often should I schedule video calls with my elderly relative?

The frequency of video calls with an elderly relative depends on their individual needs and preferences and the availability of both parties. However, regular communication is key to maintaining a sense of connection and preventing feelings of isolation and loneliness. Ideally, schedule video calls at least once a week or as often as both parties are comfortable with. If your elderly relative is living alone or has limited social interaction, you should consider scheduling more frequent video calls with family to ensure their well-being and provide regular support.

What common issues may arise during a video call with an elderly relative?

During a video call with an elderly relative, several common issues may arise, such as problems joining the call, cameras or microphones not working, people speaking on mute, screens freezing and batteries dying. By following the steps in this article you can help to overcome and avoid these issues.

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