5 steps to setting up a video calling device for an elderly user

In a world where physical distance can often keep us apart, technology can bring us closer – especially for our elderly parents and relatives, who may be at-times distanced from family and friends.

Age UK found that some 2 million elderly individuals in the UK remain ‘digitally excluded,’ despite technology such as video calling showing promise for reducing loneliness.

Video calling devices offer a means to communicate and a window to the world for those who may be isolated or less mobile.

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This guide will walk you through essential steps to set up a video calling device for an elderly user, making the process as smooth as possible.

Step 1: Choosing the right device

Many devices handle video calling, but which is the best option for your elderly relative?

Of course, you can have more than one device, and it’s fair to say that many people own all four devices below!

The leading contenders

  • Smartphones: These ubiquitous devices don’t need much of an introduction or summary. Some brands offer models with simplified user interfaces to make navigation easier for seniors. You can also switch on accessibility features to make devices easier to use. However, the screens are arguably too small for regular video calling for an elderly person.
  • Tablets: Tablets solve the screen size issue of smartphones and offer virtually the same functionality. Some tablets offer SIM card slots for cellular connectivity – ideal if your elderly relative doesn’t have WiFi, or the WiFi connection is poor.
  • Computers (laptops and desktops): Computers offer the advantage of a larger screen. However, they can be more complex to navigate. Chromebooks offer a good middle-ground between features and simplicity, and are more secure than laptops from scams and malware.
  • Specialised video calling devices (smart speakers with screens): Smart devices like Amazon Echo Show, Google Nest Hub, and Meta Portal feature screens and are designed to make video calling as simple as possible. The Amazon Echo Show and Google Nest Hub double up as voice assistants, so your elderly relative can simply command “Alexa, please video call [name]” to get hold of you.

Things to consider when making your choice

  • User-friendly interface: Look for devices with intuitive controls and, where possible, voice command capabilities. The Echo Show, Google Nest Hub and Meta Portal are exceptionally user-friendly, often requiring just a simple vocal command to initiate calls.
  • Budget and additional costs: Prices can vary significantly, from budget smartphones to higher-end tablets and specialised devices.
  • Visual and audio aspects: The elderly often benefit from larger screens and clear sound. Some devices, like the Amazon Echo Show, offer quality screens and excellent video and audio quality. Tablet screens are better-suited to video calling than smartphone screens.
  • Practicality and support: Consider how long the device’s battery will last and how simple it is to recharge.
  • Security and accessibility: Robust security features protect the user’s privacy. Devices like the Echo Show offer added layers of security while also providing accessibility features such as screen magnification and voice controls.

A test drive can be invaluable

If you can, try to physically test out a device before committing.

High-street shops and departments stores like John Lewis often have phones, tablets, laptops and smart devices like the Google Nest Hub on display.

Step 2: Preparing the environment

Having the right device is just part of the equation.

Where and how the device is set up can make a world of difference to an elderly user’s experience.

Here are some key points:

Guidelines for situating the device optimally

First, think about lighting. A well-lit room can make it easier to see the screen, but too much light can produce glare, which obscures the screen.

Next, ensure that the device is easy to reach. Phones and tablets can be mounted on stands. Similarly, smart devices like the Echo Show come with their own stands.

Avoid trailing cables that could be a tripping hazard when it comes to power supply.

Use cable organisers or adhesive cable clips to keep things tidy and safe.

Crafting a safe interaction space

One of the keys to a pleasant video calling experience is minimising distractions both for the user and the people they’re talking to.

Keep the immediate area around the device clear of clutter, and ensure that the background visible in video calls is unobtrusive.

Limiting background noise by closing doors or windows or placing the device in a quieter part of the home is also a good idea.

Additionally, ensure that the device and its power cables are positioned so they don’t create a tripping or fire hazard.

Step 3: Connecting to the internet

It may go without saying that all video calling devices must be connected to the internet.

A consistent and strong internet connection is crucial for smooth video calls, and in most cases, you’ll need a WiFi connection.

Smartphones, and sometimes tablets, connect to 4G and 5G networks, which can offer a backup if the WiFi isn’t working or if it isn’t very strong or reliable.

Handy tips for connecting the device to the web

Once internet connections are set up, the device should connect automatically.

Many modern devices, including smartphones, tablets, the Echo Show and Nest Hub, guide you through the process with on-screen prompts.

Here are some general tips:

  • WiFi network: Make sure you know the name (SSID) of the home WiFi network and the password. Store these details somewhere easily accessible for future reference in case the device disconnects and the user doesn’t know which network is theirs.
  • Automated setup: Devices offer guided setup processes that make it easy to connect to WiFi. Just follow the on-screen instructions and enter the WiFi details when prompted.
  • Check the signal: Once connected, ensure the device has a strong and stable signal. WiFi extenders can help if the signal is weak in certain areas of the home.

Overcoming common challenges when going online

While connecting to the internet is usually straightforward, it’s worth passing on the following troubleshooting tips to your elderly relative or friend:

  • Forgotten password: If the WiFi password has been forgotten, you can usually find it on the back of the router or in the router’s online settings.
  • Technical glitches: Occasionally, the device might fail to connect even with the correct details. When this happens, turning the device and the router off and on again can often resolve the issue. Unplug it from the mains, wait about 10 seconds, and re-connect.

Step 4: Configuring the device

Once you’ve chosen the right device and connected it to the internet, the next step is configuring the settings.

Proper configuration ensures the user gets the most out of their video calling experience while maximising ease of use.

Tips for tailoring the device for an elderly user

  • Initial setup: When you first switch on the device, you’ll generally be guided through a series of setup questions.
  • Contact list: Preload the contact list with frequently called numbers or addresses. Some devices allow you to designate ‘favourites,’ making it easier for the user to find essential contacts.
  • Accessibility features: Most modern devices come with various options to improve accessibility. You might want to adjust the text size or contrast. Some smart devices like the Echo Show and software like Zoom support real-time audio-to-text transcription to offer subtitles during calls.
  • Notifications: Configure the settings to reduce unnecessary pop-ups and alerts that might confuse the user. On the other hand, notifications for incoming calls should be prominent with a clear, loud ringtone.

Resolving common issues during the setup process

Sometimes, technical hiccups can occur during the setup stage.

Here are some tips for overcoming them:

  • Software updates: Many devices require software updates after the first startup. It’s wise to get these out of the way early to ensure seamless use.
  • Forgotten passwords: If any accounts (such as an Apple ID or Google account) are needed to download apps or access services, ensure you set them up and write down passwords. Password recovery can be a cumbersome process.
  • Unresponsive device: If the device is not responding during setup, a restart often fixes the problem. Most devices have a simple process to power off and on again, which can solve many issues.

Step 5: Apps and video calling functions

After setting up the device and familiarising the user with its basic features, the next step is introducing apps and the specific video calling functions.

The device often comes with built-in video calling options, like FaceTime on an iPad or Alexa Call on an Echo Show.

However, you might also need to download apps like Skype, WhatsApp, or Zoom.

Tips for navigating video calling apps and functions

  • Introduction to built-in functions: If you’ve chosen a device like the Echo Show, Meta Hub or Meta Portal, take some time to demonstrate the built-in video calling options. These are usually simpler and more integrated, making them a good starting point. Place any app icons on home screens.
  • App installation: Install other necessary apps, such as WhatsApp, and demonstrate their use.
  • Test calls: Run some test calls within the app to help the user get comfortable. This could be a good time to demonstrate how to add a new contact within the app itself.

Step 6: Practice makes perfect

You’ve chosen the ideal device, set it up in a comfortable environment, connected it to the internet, and tailored its settings. Now comes perhaps the most crucial step: explaining how to use it!

Teaching an elderly user how to operate the device

  • Start simple: Initially focus on the most crucial functions, like making and receiving calls. Explore any necessary apps for video calling, like Zoom or Alexa Calls.
  • Hands-on practice: There’s no substitute for actual hands-on experience. Sit patiently with the user and guide them through a live call. Help them to navigate the screen, find a contact, and initiate a call.
  • Create a quick guide: Draw up a simple, step-by-step guide for common tasks. This can be a physical printout or a digital document, depending on what’s more comfortable for the user.
  • Check in regularly: Set up a call routine and stick to it. Ask your relative to call you regularly – it should become second nature!

In summary

Setting up a video calling device for an elderly loved one perhaps isn’t the same as setting one up for yourself – unless your relative is confident and tech-savvy, in which case it should be a breeze.

Start by choosing the right device or combination of devices.

Smartphones are great, but the screens often need to be larger to make video calling comfortable. Tablets are a solid step up and excellent for video calling.

For elderly individuals who already use laptops, setting up video calls on them shouldn’t be too tricky and means they don’t have to learn so much new technology.

However, it’s definitely worth considering dedicated devices like the Echo Show, Google Nest Hub, and Meta Portal. Smart devices like the Echo Show and Nest Hub offer a range of functionality beyond video calling.

From there, spend time properly setting up and configuring devices before teaching your elder parent or relative how to use them. Conduct lots of trial runs and then set up a regular call routine.

Small problems are inevitable to start with, but iron them out, and things should run smoothly from then on!

Common questions

  • What is the easiest video calling device for elderly people?

The ‘easiest’ device can differ from person to person, depending on their familiarity with technology.

However, specialised devices like the Echo Show, Google Nest Hub and Meta Portal are designed for user-friendliness and often require less tech-savviness than smartphones or computers.

The Echo Show is a very solid device for elderly users due to its robust voice command.

  • What if my elderly relative doesn’t have access to a WiFi network?

Smartphones use cellular connectivity and don’t require WiFi.

Some tablets offer SIM card slots, too, meaning you won’t need to connect them to the internet. Overall, the best long-term option is to use WiFi.

  • Is there a specific video phone for the elderly?

While no one-size-fits-all video phone is designed exclusively for the elderly, certain products focus more on user-friendliness and accessibility.

Brands like GrandPad – tablets designed specifically for seniors – and devices like the Echo Show have features that cater to older users.

  • What is the best video calling app for elderly people?

The ‘best’ app largely depends on what the user finds most comfortable and is most familiar with. However, platforms like Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime are popular.

WhatsApp is a ubiquitous messaging app that works well with video calling and might be all you need.


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