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Navigating the “Smart” World: Video Chat Options for Seniors and Their Families

November 7, 2023

I have a confession. I’m not much of a TV person. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it from time to time. It’s just that it takes such an exorbitant number of steps on our “smart” TV actually to get to a show. It can be exhausting. Everything seems to have become smart this or smart that lately – televisions, phones, watches, you name it. Even as a millennial, I find it easy to feel overwhelmed, like I’m anything but smart while trying to keep up with all these technological advances. Does this hit home with you?

Despite increases over the past decade, older adults still use technology less than their younger counterparts (Pew Research Center, 2022). This is unfortunate, as technology has truly reimagined how seniors can stay connected with their loved ones!

Video chat programs can be a real lifeline for a senior living alone or far away from loved ones. Whether it’s catching up with a friend, virtually joining a family celebration, or reading a bedtime story to grandchildren across time zones, there’s nothing like hearing the laughter of a loved one while seeing their smile. Here is a brief rundown of some of the most popular video chat programs and apps to help you decide which might be the best fit for you or the senior in your life.

FaceTime

One of the more popular video chat options, FaceTime, is straightforward for seniors to navigate. Making a video call is as simple as making an ordinary phone call!

  • Pros: no annual subscription fee; group calling capability for up to 32 people; simple to navigate; can record and send video messages
  • Cons: requires users on both ends to use an Apple device (iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.)

Skype

Skype has been around for a while and is an easy-to-navigate video chat platform for seniors. Once you download the software on your device, you can even choose between video calls or regular voice calls.

  • Pros: compatible with just about any device; free for domestic calls; group calling capability for up to 50 people
  • Cons: there aren’t many, but it could be challenging to initially set up an account and add family members as contacts

Zoom

Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all heard of Zoom. It’s not just for workplace meetings, though! Family members can easily stay in touch through Zoom by creating an account.

  • Pros: the basic level is free; it can be used on a computer or a mobile device; there is unrestricted group calling capability for up to 100 people
  • Cons: group calling—though free—is limited to 40 minutes; getting more than 40 minutes of call time requires a yearly subscription to their ProPlan, which is considerably expensive

Google Meet

Originally the Android response to FaceTime, Google Meet offers a way to connect with family and friends whether they are Apple users or Android users (yes, it’s true!). All you need is a Gmail e-mail account.

  • Pros: works with a variety of devices, including smartphones and computers; free group calling for up to an hour
  • Cons: it might be too much of a hassle to set up a new e-mail account to use Google Meet

It’s a lot to keep up with, this aging in a “smart” world. Don’t let the terminology be intimidating, though. Technology like video chat makes it possible for you to stay involved in the relationships that matter the most—near, far, or in between.