Staying in touch with aging parents is essential to their health and well-being. The pandemic magnified the importance of reducing social isolation and loneliness for older adults, especially those living alone or unable to get out into the community. Regular communication between elderly parents and their family members and friends is essential to enhance their physical, cognitive, and mental health and make life more meaningful in later years.
While we all recognize the value of ongoing connection, it can be challenging to stay in touch with aging parents when life gets busy with competing demands and priorities. When close family members and friends live at a distance, staying connected with an older parent is even harder. While regular visits are best, staying in close touch in other ways is the next best thing.
In this post, I’ll discuss why staying in touch with aging parents is vital, some of the best ways to maintain consistent contact, tips for effective communication with any older adult, and some of the best technology tools available for staying in touch with aging parents.
Table of Contents
- 1. Prioritize Staying in Touch with Aging Parents
- 2. Have a Plan for Staying in Touch With Aging Parents
- 3. Communicate Effectively When Staying in Touch with Aging Parents
- 4. Use Technology Designed for Seniors to Facilitate Staying in Touch
- 5. Be Aware of the Limitations to Virtual Visits
- Final Thoughts
1. Prioritize Staying in Touch with Aging Parents
When establishing priorities, it always helps to know your why! Recognize the importance of staying in touch with aging parents, and please remember that none of us know how long we may have with the people in our life.
There are many benefits for all people in maintaining strong social and emotional connections. This becomes especially important in later life when many older adults have fewer opportunities for regular engagement with others. Individuals retire, and daily living schedules change. Some elderly parents experience memory loss, mobility limitations, declines in hearing or vision, or other health issues or problems that may make social interactions challenging. Extra help may become necessary.
Staying in touch with aging parents can create an enjoyable time to share life experiences, gain from our elder’s decades of wisdom, discover the unknown family history, and have some fun. Regular communication also helps families provide emotional support and recognize aging-related changes, safety concerns, developing medical problems, or unmet needs that may need to be addressed.
The more family members or friends in touch with your older loved one, the better. It can benefit the primary caregiver or family caregivers when a full circle of family and friends can make a team effort to stay in touch. With more people in the care circle, there are more people to help if needed. As an added benefit, family members are more likely to be on the same page with a safety concern or a parent’s need for help with daily tasks if everyone is in regular contact with older parents.
We often, unfortunately, see the conflicts that arise when only one of the adult children has been involved regularly with the parents. Without ongoing contact and communication with their aging parents, other family members may be blind to the growing need for additional support. I’ve been told about many family meetings that have gone awry when adult children and spouses are not on the same page. Staying in contact with aging parents may not guarantee the family will agree on issues, but it can help.
Staying in touch with aging parents can also help family members approach sensitive topics with their parents. Conversations about a parent’s unaddressed health issues, challenges with paying bills and managing finances, or driving safety and overall well-being can be challenging and confrontational. Sensitive conversations are more easily navigated when interpersonal connections are ongoing, trusted, and robust.
Following are some of the many benefits of communicating with aging parents, in-person or with video and phone calls:
- Reducing social isolation and loneliness, both significant health risks
- Creating a greater sense of well-being for all
- Ensuring a senior feels loved, included, and valued
- Prioritizing a time to pay careful attention to how they are doing
- Increasing opportunities for sharing their knowledge and wisdom
- A way to stay more in touch with developing health or financial problems
- A comfortable time to ask questions in a conversational way
- A way to support an aging parent to remain independent in their own home
- A time to engage in active listening and improving communication when family dynamics have been complex.
- A way to introduce one idea to an older person without appearing to be giving advice, if unsolicited
- Helping to ease tension if home maintenance, safety, or financial issues have been raised but not well received.
- Maintaining and enriching relationships between an aging parent, adult children, grandchildren, and others.
- Creating fun, meaningful time together!
2. Have a Plan for Staying in Touch With Aging Parents
Schedule a Regular Time to Talk
One of the best ways to stay in touch with aging parents is to establish a regular time to check in with them. Whether daily for a few moments, weekly, or once a month, setting up a time ensures that you both can catch up, spend uninterrupted quality time, and remain connected. You can set up the same call or video chat time each week, so your parent knows when to expect your call, and the ring doesn’t get overlooked on a busy day.
Share your Life Updates and ask about Theirs.
Keep the lines of communication open by sharing what is going on in your life. This could include your work, activities, health, children, or grandchildren. This allows your family member to feel connected and a part of your life and provides topics of interest for them to share with others. It can also get the conversations flowing and encourage them to share details of their days with you. Ask them about their news, activities, interests, concerns, and feelings. Showing genuine interest in their lives is crucial to stay connected and showing that you care.
Asking for input or thoughts on situations or challenges you are dealing with is an excellent way to benefit from your older family member’s experience and wisdom and can facilitate conversations about their well-being.
Share Short Videos or Photos Regularly
Sending videos and photos of a family member, friends, and daily life is a great way to improve communication and can be viewed repeatedly over time. Images provide lovely conversation starters and are a simple way to share experiences more easily. Not everyone enjoys more extended phone or video calls, but photos or videos can provide ongoing pleasure. Platforms to make these exchanges easier are described below. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!
Technology can be a great asset for communicating with aging parents at a long distance. Online platforms such as Skype, FaceTime, Facebook Portal, or Zoom offer a simple way to stay in touch with video calls, allowing for greater connection. Seeing facial expressions and maintaining eye contact can help when hearing is challenged. Video calls can also enable you to observe how your loved one is doing. This is especially valuable for a long-distance caregiver who cannot easily stop by and help with needed household chores or other needs.
Simple tools available through a cell phone or computer, like texting or emailing, can keep the lines of communication open. There are excellent tools for enhancing computer visibility for low-vision individuals. Some training on these tools may be needed, and be sensitive to whether or not the older individual can use them easily.
If your parent is tech-challenged or tech-averse, or as parents age, platforms designed specifically for older adults are described below and can be excellent when products intended for a broad audience are difficult to use. You want communication to be easy and pleasurable, not tricky and frustrating!
3. Communicate Effectively When Staying in Touch with Aging Parents
Some basic communication skills for interacting with an older adult will help to stay connected with aging parents and make your conversations more enjoyable. While many older adults need minimal adjustments for successful discussions, there are some general communication tips to be aware of, especially in contrast to chatting with a younger person.
Be aware of any health problems or aging-related changes your loved one may be experiencing, including reduced hearing or vision. While not a normal part of aging, short-term memory loss or trouble thinking may be present. If these limitations are present, use common sense and adjust accordingly. Following are tips for effective communication and more enjoyable visits with your senior loved one.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Speak clearly.
- When in-person, speak when facing the older adult.
- Eliminate background noise.
- Be aware of facial expressions.
- If you sense trouble understanding, try different words.
- If memory loss is present, do not ask if they remember a person, situation, or event. Instead, try “I remember when . . .” Be their memory and enjoy sharing the story rather than asking if they remember it.
- Ask thoughtful questions, use active listening and be fully present during your conversation.
- If questions or conversations repeat, remain calm, attentive, and responsive, and gently redirect the conversation.
- If your older loved ones seem distracted or tired, consider wrapping up and touching base in a day or two. Remember, even a few moments of connecting are valuable.
4. Use Technology Designed for Seniors to Facilitate Staying in Touch
Two of the best uses of technology applications for staying in close connection are video calls and photo sharing. Many seniors are comfortable with computers, smartphones, tablets, and current technology platforms. For these older adults, any commonly used platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and photo-sharing options can help them stay in close touch with family and friends. In comparison, phone calls are friendly but don’t offer the added benefit of face-to-face connection, even if virtual.
For older adults less comfortable with technology, many platforms and tools are designed for ease of use and enhanced safety. When communicating with aging parents, these products can be an excellent solution for the tech-challenged and older adults with limitations that make using devices difficult. Families have found ways to use these tools to remind and monitor activities, appointments, medication management, and other daily tasks from a distance.
Try Senior-friendly Tablets for Communicating with Aging Parents
There are now several excellent tablet options available for the more tech-challenged older adults and the elderly. With the goal of keeping staying in touch with aging parents as easy as possible, minimizing tech challenges is essential. No one wants to receive the call that a tablet or other device isn’t working!
All of the senior-friendly options have easy-to-navigate screens and larger buttons or icons, can be set up remotely or before shipment to the user, and offer support for issues. With all of the products mentioned below, the primary uses of video calls and photo sharing work well.Video or phone calls (if available) can only be made with contacts on an approved list, providing safety from possible scammers and unwanted solicitations.
Please note that the functionality of these tablets is limited relative to standard tablets, so if ease of use is not required, a standard iPad or Android Tablet may be preferable.
There are distinctions in features, pricing, and the ideal user, so it is essential to consider the needs and capabilities of the intended audience. Though pricing varies, the first three options require an ongoing subscription cost to cover a cellular network. For current details, see each website provided below.
Grandpad – The Grandpad was the first tablet designed with older adults in mind and offers a range of locked-down features. The Grandpad is an excellent tool for staying in touch with aging parents, and offers additional features for their entertainment and engagement. A few unique aspects include the video chat support available 24/7, a wireless charging stand, and voice call capability. The speaker configuration (front-facing) makes this tablet more useful for hard-of-hearing users. The monthly subscription cost has been the highest of the senior tablets, though please check the current pricing.
In addition to the live video chat support, Grandpad Support can remotely take control of the tablet and adjust its settings or troubleshoot if necessary. This combination allows Grandpad to be used successfully without family help or support to fix issues.
Claris Companion – For staying in touch with aging parents, Claris Companion offers features similar to the Grandpad but does not offer voice calling or a wireless charging stand. The tablet needs to be plugged in to be charged, which can present challenges for some users. On the plus side, the Claris Companion can have additional apps added by a tech-comfortable helper, allowing for greater customization. Claris Support is also able to access the tablet remotely for technical support.
Several remote patient or client monitoring features and tools, such as blood pressure monitors, are available when health and wellness monitoring are a priority.
ViewClix – ViewClix is a third option ideal for older adults with minimal tech capabilities. The functionality is the most limited, but the unit allows for straightforward video chatting and photo sharing. These two capabilities are especially valuable for staying in touch with aging parents or other older family members. The tablet is designed to be stationary and to remain plugged in, eliminating the need to charge. ViewClix is always on and connected, showing pictures when not video chatting unless in sleep mode. For the most tech-challenged, there are additional benefits.
- Seniors have no login, no accounts to sign up for, and no passwords to remember.
- Auto-answer mode allows seniors to receive a call without pressing a button.
- The frames are remotely managed by a family member or friend, which makes them hassle-free for the user.
ViewClix is designed for use with wifi only, eliminating the monthly subscription cost; this allows for a one-time purchase cost with no ongoing charges for the regular plan.
Please note, ViewClix does not allow the senior to initiate video calls, but there is a ‘call me’ feature where they can reach out to family when they want to connect. Again, this tablet is the easiest to use but is also the most limited in functionality for the older adult.
An appealing unique feature of ViewClix is the ‘sticky note’ option, which allows family members to post reminder sticky notes on the tablet screen. An excellent way for gentle reminders of upcoming doctor’s appointments, visits, medication reminders, etc.
ViewClix recently introduced a Premier Plan, which offers group video calls, excellent for a family meeting or small gathering, and an engaging option for sharing photographs while video chatting.
Oscar Family – An alternative to the tablet option, Oscar Family, is an App that can be used on any device. The app allows for video chats, photo sharing, etc., and is ideal for those who already have a tablet or need an iPad to sync with hearing aids in the case of hearing loss. The app is downloaded on the senior’s tablet or another device and is available for very reasonable monthly subscription plans.
Telehealth Options Made Easier
An added benefit to several of the options available is the added option of telehealth appointments via video. In addition, several of the platforms offer remote patient monitoring tools, such as personal blood pressure monitors, that can be connected with an monitored by the health care provider. This can make monitoring of chronic or acute conditions simpler and more effective.
Try Digital Frames to Make Staying with Aging Parents More Fun!
Digital frames are designed to create greater engagement with a person who lives at a distance — through sharing and viewing photos and possibly videos.
Wifi is required, and family and friends can easily upload or email photos to display on the frame. The sharing process can vary but is always simple, and pictures are available to view automatically.
ViewClix (described above) is one option that also offers video calls on a straightforward tablet. Simple digital frames are an excellent option for older adults who are already set up for voice or video calls or like to have photos displayed in varied locations around the home. Following are two digital frame options that work very well for older people.
Skylight Frame – Skylight allows for easy sharing of photographs. Users receive a unique Skylight email address and family email photos to that address, and pictures appear instantly in the frame. The frame comes in 2 sizes and price options.
Loop –The Loop digital picture frame is similar but utilizes a phone app to upload photos and allows for video sharing. Wifi is required for the frame to function, and pictures can be uploaded to distinct groups.
Any of these tools designed for ease of use by any older senior will support seamless and enjoyable interactions and bring plenty of joy to the users. Families I’ve worked with have shared that some of the above products have genuinely transformed their parent’s quality of life, and their family’s relationships.
5. Be Aware of the Limitations to Virtual Visits
Today many families are spread out in multiple locations. When using virtual visits for staying in touch with aging parents, it may become evident that a parent’s needs have increased, and long-distance caregiving becomes necessary. If there is no available family or close friend nearby, communicating and supporting at a distance has become more accessible and interactive. Staying in touch with aging parents and supporting growing needs using new technology and tools can be more doable than in the past. Mix it up and make use of the available tools!
Despite the many more communication tools available, an in-person visit is essential if it becomes clear that greater support is needed for an aging parent. An in-person visit will help you better understand your elderly parent’s capabilities and needs, is more emotionally supportive, and can help you assess the safety of their living environment. See our articles on Whole Home Modifications, and Bathroom Modifications. If an elderly parent has a hard time with aspects of daily life and the family is at a distance, explore local resources and consider utilizing the services of a companion or in-home care provider. See our article on Home Care for Seniors.
If there is no one in the family able to take this on, consider the services of a Geriatric Care Manager or the experts at Age Better Resources, to help assess and determine what may be needed. At a minimum, be sure that a plan for any emergency situation or urgent medical care needs is in place.
We have all seen or learned off many lonely and isolated aging adults. By staying in touch aging parents, family and close friends can truly elevate their lives. Strong personal connections are essential for the senior’s well-being and assist you in knowing that your elderly parent is okay. Stay in touch, deepen relationships, and enjoy peace of mind knowing you are making a difference in the lives of your older loved ones!
If you have questions or concerns about supporting aging parents, contact us for a complimentary consultation!