Tips & Advice

The safest tools for staying in touch with older family members this holiday season

Emma McGowan, 4 December 2020

Give the gift of tech that your family members can use year-round

Many of us will be spending time away from our family members this holiday season, even with Covid-19 vaccines on the horizon. Not being able to see grandchildren or nieces and nephews will be especially heartbreaking for older family members. And, unfortunately, many people in older generations either don’t have the technology to stay in touch — or they aren’t sure how to operate it.

Luckily, this is something that younger family members can help out with. Why not treat the older people in your family to the tools they need to stay in touch this holiday season? As a bonus, offer to walk them through setting them up, either virtually or in a safe and social distanced way. That way, Grandma can “be there” on Christmas morning, even if she can’t be there in person. 

Make use of tech they already own

Of course, your older family members might have technology that they already use and love. We’re not trying to say that everyone in older generations is tech-illiterate — in fact, my grandpa spends more time on Facebook than I do! 

So if that’s the case, it might be as simple as figuring out what technology they already own but aren’t utilizing. For example, does their computer or tablet or phone have FaceTime? Are they messaging using WhatsApp or Facebook, both of which offer video chat components? If they’re using outdated technology, you might need to buy an external webcam but if they’re up to date, all you need to do is walk them through how to use what they already have.

Tablets

The most important part of your toolkit this holiday season is a tablet with a camera, so that your relatives can video call you. As anyone who has ever tried to explain how to set up a laptop to a person who grew up with rotary phones knows, you want to go with simple here. Accessible. Easy.

For that, your best bet is an iPad. The iPad is the most intuitive tablet out there and the 2020 version retails for $329. It’s fast, has a clear screen, a good camera, and is big enough even for eyes that need a little help. With FaceTime built-in, your loved ones can easily call your phone or tablet with very little instruction. 

Another advantage of getting an iPad is that Apple has really doubled down on security and privacy in recent years. While they’ve always been better than their competitors, they’ve really made it a cornerstone. Considering the rise in elder scams online, you can feel a little more comfortable knowing that your loved one has some protection.

But if you’re looking for a more cost-effective option, your best bet is probably the Samsung Galaxy Tab E, which retails for $199. (But you can probably find a cheaper sale price this time of year.) You’re not going to get the privacy and security protections that you’ll get with Apple, but you could easily install your own antivirus and anti-malware software on the tablet before handing it over to your older family member.

Noise-cancelling earphones

Another add-on you might want to consider is noise-cancelling earphones, especially if your loved one has some hearing problems. (My great-grandmother was stone deaf by the time she passed but refused to get hearing aids because she didn’t like the way they looked.) We’ve had enough, “Can you hear me?” this year without adding on Grandpa’s hearing problems, right?

Things to look for when shopping for noise-cancelling earphones for seniors include comfort, how well they filter background noise, and microphone quality. And there’s really only winner here: Bose Noise Cancelling Wireless Bluetooth Headphones 700. They’re the latest version from Bose and they’re the best of the best. But they do come in at around $340, which isn’t cheap. Plus, they require your senior to have a smartphone or tablet to run the Bose app and the technical knowledge to set up the Bluetooth connection.

If your older family member is technologically impaired, consider getting a pair with wires. (Assuming it’s compatible with whatever device they’re using, of course.) The Sennheiser HD471G provides good noise-cancelling without having to fumble around with apps or Bluetooth. It’s a good option for seniors who say, “Can’t you just do it for me?”

And while this will hopefully be the only holiday season we have to spend in isolation, once your older family members have the tech and know how to use it, you can stay in touch more easily year-round. How great a gift is that?