Mar 2020: How to stay in touch with relatives remotely

Thanks to technology, we can still see our loved ones even when we can’t be in the same place as them. Of course, introducing an older relative to new software isn’t always easy. But the best software is made so that the process is as simple as possible, and you can be up and running to speak with your family and friends in no time.

Before you begin

The technology should be as user-friendly as possible, and a built-in camera on a smartphone, tablet, or laptop might be the most straightforward choice. According to Ofcom, the vast majority of over-75s don’t own a smartphone. Now might be the time to find one. Doro, a smartphone brand, has a good and relatively inexpensive line of easy-to-use camera phones.

The director of the charity Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, says that older people might prefer to use a mouse and keyboard rather than touchscreen or trackpad. If that’s the case, you could set up a Bluetooth or wired connection to make things easier.

You may need to help to set up a new system, and to show your relatives how to get going. However, please be mindful that you should not come into the home if you have any symptoms whatsoever, or if you have recently been travelling or in contact with an infected person. We will try to help you wherever possible.

Apps for your smartphone, tablet or laptop

If your loved one already has smart equipment, you could try using built-in apps. In Apple products, FaceTime is simple and easy to use.

WhatsApp and Facebook also have video calls enabled in their software, which could prove to be the easiest option particularly if your loved one has already used either of the platforms.

There are other options that allow for a group call, like the app Houseparty or the conference software Zoom. These are great for catching up with groups of friends during quarantine, but they might not be best for older relatives as having multiple voices on the line can be confusing.

If you choose to pass on an old smartphone of your own to a relative, make sure that it is still up-to-date with security software to protect against malware or other hacks.

All-in-one kit

Some other smart devices are great for video calls.

Amazon’s Echo Show products are among the easiest. You can also start a call without the other person having to answer, through the ‘drop in’ feature. (You have to set up the right permissions to do this). Only one of you needs the actual device – the other can use the software through the Alexa app on a normal smartphone. The smallest and cheapest of their options has a roughly smartphone-sized screen, for £80. Larger options are available.

Facebook’s Portal is a similar price, and has the added benefit of being able to pan out and zoom in. That means it can still see someone even if they get up for a stretch or a wander away from the camera. Since Facebook owns WhatsApp, the Portal is an easy way to integrate calls on that platform (or on Facebook Messenger) with a larger screen.

The old-fashioned way

Sometimes all you need is a voice on the other end of a phone. Where possible, pick up the phone to give a loved one a call. In times like these it’s not just loved ones in a care home who might need a chat – check on your neighbours too and see if they need to talk to someone.