Helping the elderly stay connected and safe

Leena Elias 12 May 2020

How can working adults help elderly loved ones troubleshoot support without physically being there?

Many of us are worried about our elders. It’s incredibly important that we protect them from the dangers of the COVID-19 virus, but as weeks stretch into months, we also need to keep loneliness and depression at bay until we can be together with them. Technology can provide a valuable resource to help our elderly population during this shelter-at-home period. For many elders, their computers and phones are their lifelines. But for others who rely heavily on younger, more tech-savvy relatives and friends to help them stay connected, technology can be a source of frustration.

With social distancing in place, how can working adults help elderly loved ones troubleshoot support without physically being there? And, with fraudsters peddling COVID-19-related scams that target the elderly, how do we help them stay safe?

These are pressing questions for many of us during this difficult time. Solutions will vary depending on many factors, including your parent’s or friend’s health, living situation and comfort with technology. Some advice will be perfect for one group, not as appropriate for others.

Taking the range of the exercise into account, here are a few tips you can use to help the tech-challenged mature demographic navigate the pandemic.

Keep it simple – This isn’t the time for extensive tech upgrades or complicated downloads. If your loved one is more comfortable with text than email, or vice versa, do most of your written communications that way. If they have a favorite app or website, don’t push a shift to adopting other platforms, but rather help them to better navigate the solutions that fit their comfortability level.

Use apps to connect  – There are all kinds of online options to talk with family and friends – and some are very easy to use. Zoom, for instance, doesn’t require a download to participate in a video call. Elders just need to click a link, and if the moderator sets the video and audio settings to automatically load, everything will pop on. FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp also provide easy ways to communicate with groups and are as easy to join as accepting a call. This is a good opportunity for younger, tech-savvy relatives to help coordinate a series of Zoom calls with their grandparents’ friend network. As added support, help set them up with “Gallery View” ahead of the call so they can see everyone and won’t have to figure it out for themselves once the call begins. 

Spend a little extra time – If your elder parent or friend is struggling with a computer issue, they’re also probably feeling discouraged. Find time to listen to these concerns and walk them through a solution that fits their needs. Take an extra 5 minutes to help them get set up on a Zoom call before the call starts so they don’t feel rushed or discouraged as others join. Making sure to account for the extra time it will take to help get them set up so things go smoothly and don’t leave everyone feeling frustrated.  Better yet, encourage your kids (their grandkids) to call them separately and walk them through tech set up processes - this creates hands on support and the added benefit of time with family. My mother uses hearing aids, so walking her through different functions of the tech platform so she knows when to mute/un-mute and tell if someone else is talking to avoid any mistaken interruptions or embarrassment is important. If there are changes or updates needed to hardware devices, take the time to research these steps and share visuals if possible (send pictures of the instructions, preferably with a diagram pointing to the icon on the screen), call and walk them through the process directly, practicing patience while they look to navigate the nuances of this new normal.

Teach them to watch out for online scams – While the elderly have long been targets of online scams, the frequency has increased the past few months, during the COVID-19 scare. Some of the more aggressive efforts have included scammers impersonating doctors and hospital staff, claiming to have treated a relative for COVID-19 and demanding payment for treatment. Others pose as government reps, from seeking information to promising to send stimulus checks. Encourage loved ones not to click on anything out of the ordinary, no matter what it promises. And don’t forget the phone. Telephone fraud is still the leading cause of elder fraud. Remind elders to be vigilant and not to trust anyone they don’t know on the phone.

Scrutinize all COVID-19-related product offers – Seeing frequent news reports about the virus’ effects on the 60+ population, many elders are combing the web and monitoring their emails hoping for a miracle cure. Relatives should encourage elders to ignore offers for any COVID-19 vaccine, cure or treatment. Medical breakthroughs won’t be circulating through unsolicited emails or online ads – they’ll be at the top of the news.

Help them get more involved in ecommerce – Many elders have avoided ecommerce for two reasons: They were intimidated by it, and they could easily pick up the products they needed at local stores. Now that the pandemic has made it harder to shop in person, spending time to teach the elderly in your life how to shop online will be of great benefit to their day-to-day needs and reduce their exposure to physical contact. Food delivery websites are easy to navigate, and Amazon can ship pretty much whatever they need in a day or two. Elders might need some help getting started and trouble-shooting an occasional transaction, but once they get going it’ll help them feel more empowered to shop on their own.

Connecting with our elders is more important than ever during these difficult times. Whether you are five blocks or five thousand miles from your loved ones, we all have to do our best to support them at a distance. When in doubt, reach out. A little human connection goes a long way. 

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