In the prevailing circumstances, with the pandemic still raging across the world, social isolation has become a way of life for people across age groups. “Normal” people are today being exposed to extraordinary situations.
For seniors, this would be a specially difficult period, and many of them have probably not seen their loved ones for months. Though children and grandchildren may be living far away, distances didn’t matter till now, because families gathered on special occasions or dropped in for a visit during the holidays.
Loneliness and seclusion can have a detrimental effect on seniors, particularly those who cannot travel independently. Family members usually try to stay in touch via telephone, and this is something that the elderly truly value and look forward to.
However, video calling adds more warmth, flavor, and a personal touch to communication, and that’s why seniors often prefer these calls to merely hearing a disembodied voice on the phone.
Mental Health in Seniors
According to the WHO, the world’s over-60 population is set to double between 2015-2050. Nearly 15% of this population suffers from mental disorders. Elders have to face certain unique physical and mental health challenges, the most common being age-related physical disabilities, dementia, and depression. Anxiety disorders, substance/alcohol abuse, and stress are other common difficulties. Elders are also vulnerable to abuse from family members, members of the public, and service providers. They run the risk of financial, psychological, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse that increase their anxiety and depression.
Concepts such as Positive Aging, Active and Healthy Aging, etc. have promoted the needs of older people by incorporating changes in the environment. These are focused on giving them more security, independence, social support, trained caregivers, community involvement, and prompt response to their needs.
With events like the pandemic posing a real risk to the vulnerable population of seniors, this poses a major challenge. In other circumstances, healthcare professionals prescribe the maximum possible social interaction to ensure the well-being and psychological health. However, now they’re being told to do the opposite and maintain physical distance from others, including their family members.
As a result, the world needs to find new and innovative ways to connect people.
Video Calling Is the Answer
A study conducted by BMC (BioMed Central) the UK in 2018 explored video calling and its impact on loneliness and social isolation in care environments for older people. The study group comprised older adults who could be lonely as they were unable to engage in face-to-face contact with their families. Though they faced challenges in using new technologies, they enjoyed the interaction that enabled a better connection to their loved ones.
Video calling provides enormous benefits that include:
1. Personal Feel: Though audio phone calls provide enough of a feeling of being connected, a video call provides vital visual information about how people look, their expressions, the way their room looks, how they’re dressed, the other activities going on around them, etc. These add important conversational elements that can extend the interaction and make older people feel more involved in the lives of their children and loved ones.
2. More Expressive: Video calls seem more fulfilling and satisfying because they’re the next best thing to being with the person. You can read body language, expressions, mood, etc. much better when you see the person rather than merely hearing their voice. It’s reassuring for family members to see that their beloved senior looks healthy, is well-groomed, lucid, and is behaving “normally.”
3. Counteracts Depression: Older adults who use video talk technology report fewer feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. A 2019 study reported in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry titled “Using Skype To Beat The Blues” revealed that older adults (average age 64 years) who were users of video chat had nearly 50% less probability of depressive symptoms over two years compared to those who communicated via e-mail, instant messaging and social media. It’s interesting to note that issues such as poor connectivity, sound, and image quality have very little impact when seniors can see the person they’re talking to.
4. Boosts Confidence: Older adults tend to be technophobic when it comes to embracing new technologies. However, once they learn the basic skills of video calling, they tend to feel more confident using these skills in other areas such as search engines, social media, etc. As a result, it improves their general quality of life and feelings of well-being.
5. Combats Other Issues: 70% of human communication is non-verbal. In audio calls, we may miss important messages simply because we’re unable to access the non-verbal clues. Being able to see people helps those older adults who have hearing problems. They can communicate using visual clues, body language, lip-reading, and facial expressions, which is something they can’t do in a normal telephone call. Video calling provides a more direct line of communication.
6. Feeling of Involvement: Seniors often regret that they can’t be present at special family events. Grandchildren’s birthdays, engagement parties, anniversaries, class reunions, etc. are occasions that many seniors would love to be a part of. This is where video calling can bridge the gap. They feel updated on what’s going on in the lives of their loved ones and more involved. Seniors tend to get side-lined and even forgotten if they’re not seen and heard by others in the family, especially the younger generation.
Helping Seniors To Use Video Calling
Whether you’re a professional caregiver in care home or a family member who wants to assist a senior in making video calls, it’s important to systematically approach the task.
1. Select the appropriate device that the senior is comfortable with
2. Write down the instructions in a step-by-step, easy to follow format.
3. Decide tech aspects such as platform selection
4. Work with the senior to understand whom they would like to talk to and what devices that a person uses (If they use FaceTime, which is an Apple product, you need to ensure compatibility)
5. Select a simple and uncomplicated app and download it on the phone/tablet/laptop
6. Do a complete initial live demo
7. Walk them through the process of making the call in a stage-wise format
8. Show them how to use the different features such as Contacts, Camera, volume controls, etc.
9. Teach how to make, answer and end calls
10. Provide information on how to get help with the process if required.