Technology has the power to keep users of all ages connected and engaged. Eighty percent of seniors report that they go online and use the Internet, and of these, two in three online seniors says technology has had a positive effect on their lives. While no app can take the place of in-person interaction, video calling services can supplement your social interactions when visits with family and friends are not possible, or too infrequent.
Video calling apps can serve a multitude of purposes. They allow you to stay connected with your loved ones and share important events such as birthdays, holidays, or family gatherings. Video calling provides a more visual experience that is not available through traditional phone conversations-- for example, you can experience the joy of watching grandchildren open gifts, showing off their artwork, or blowing out birthday candles, even when distance may be a barrier. On a more day-to-day basis, video calling is a great way to update friends on local events in your community, or to simply catch up with someone after time apart.
You may also be able to use video calling to connect with caregivers or medical professionals. This can be a useful and quick way to ask questions regarding health, medications, or any concerns that may arise but do not require an in-person visit.
Additionally, there are many opportunities online to sign up for courses that use interactive video chat software. Learning keeps the mind active, and developing a new skill set or practicing an existing one can be a fun way to maintain social engagement and stay connected to your community.
Close relationships are a large determinant of health and well-being, and video calling technology has the potential to cultivate successful relationships among seniors, their families, and friends. Here are some popular video calling services and tips on how to navigate them.
Skype is an app that provides video/voice calling and instant messaging services between most computers, tablets, and mobile devices. The app supports multi-person conference calling, which is convenient for bringing many family members or friends into one conversation. This feature can also be useful for joining online groups or chat rooms for seniors who have a common interest. There are many online networking groups and organizations, small or large, made up of members who are passionate about a variety of topics and hobbies. To sign up for Skype, you must create an account and username which connects to your email address or phone number. After creating an account, you will be able to import existing contacts, or easily search the platform to find a loved one. The app operates over either mobile data or WiFi connection. WiFi video calling and messaging via Skype are free of charge, including international calling.
FaceTime is a voice and video calling feature developed by Apple that is available on iPod, iPad, iPhone, or Macbook devices. The app is free, but is only available for use between two Apple devices. FaceTime users are identified by the phone number or email address used in their Apple ID. FaceTime functions much like the calling feature on cell phones, where you scroll through your contact list to make a call, or manually enter a number or email address. You can make multi-person calls on mobile devices. The app uses WiFi or mobile data connection and can be used to call internationally.
WhatsApp is multi-functional instant messaging and video calling app owned by Facebook. The app is available for download on most phones and computers, however video calling services are only currently available on mobile devices. Users create an account that is directly linked to their phone number, and have the ability to change their avatar, name, and “about” description, which details what they are up to. WhatsApp provides a range of choices about how much information the app can divulge about your activities. You can set Last Seen, Profile Photo, About, and Status to be seen by everyone, only contacts, or no one. You can then import contacts who are already using WhatsApp, or invite new users to join the app. WhatsApp includes a group calling and messaging feature as well as international calling if friends or family are located outside the country. WhatsApp is free to download and operates using WiFi or mobile data.
Like all Internet tools, these services come with risks. These risks can be mitigated as long as you follow some basic rules of the road.
If the app requires the creation of an account, use a strong password that is unique in order to avoid impersonation or hacking. Utilize your smartphone’s privacy settings, which can restrict which apps have access to your location, contacts, and other personal information. Many apps including WhatsApp and Skype use end-to-end encryption in their messaging features, which means only you and the person you're communicating with can read what is sent. You can also check more privacy settings of the individual apps on their websites.
No matter what video calling option you choose, remember to use the service responsibly and safely, while still remembering to have fun communicating visually with friends and family.