How to Use Video Calling to Stay in Touch with Elderly Relatives

The coronavirus pandemic is tough for everyone. However, for those in care homes, it’s vital that we take significant steps to reduce their risk of exposure to a virus which is proving to put the elderly at greater risk. Therefore, care homes in North Devon and Somerset, across the country, and indeed the world, have taken the difficult decision to close their doors to visitors.

Understanding that isolation and loneliness in the elderly are significant concerns, it’s crucial that care homes introduce ways of facilitating greater connection with relatives and loved ones that can work despite residents not getting visits in the usual way. One way to do that is through video calling, or video conferencing. However, for a generation not familiar with the technology, it can pose some challenges.

Here we share with you our top tips for making video calling elderly individuals work effectively. This way both sides can feel confident in using video calling to replace visits for the time being.

1. Don’t make them responsible for the technology

If your relative is already familiar with the likes of Skype, then then they will feel confident. However, if an elderly resident has to use their own smart device to organise a video call for the first time, even just answering a call, then this can provoke feelings of anxiety.

Conscientious care homes should be taking charge of organising the technological side of video calls to their residents. For example, at Eastleigh, we ask that you book in a Skype call via our reception desks, and we will help your loved one using our dedicated and specially purchased devices.

This way your relative doesn’t need to focus on using a touchscreen, or navigating passwords and error messages, or knowing which buttons to press.

2. Connectivity

It’s important that you ensure you do the video call from a location where you know you have consistent and reliable internet connection. Not only will this help ensure the video call isn’t called short, it will also help to ensure there is minimal time lag between speech and facial movements displayed on the screen.

3. Planning

Plan the video call in advance; don’t simply call on the spur of the moment. Your elderly relative will have their routine, which care homes are trying to keep as normal as possible at the current time.

What’s more, if your relative is expecting a call at a certain time then they can be in position, calm and engaged, rather than caught off guard.

4. Location

Choose your own device set-up carefully. Take care to ensure that light falls evenly on your face, without being too bright or too dark. Many care home residents rely on body language and lip-reading to help them hear. This is made easier if you ensure your face is clearly displayed on the screen.

Most video calling services will allow you to test how you look on the screen. It can be worth doing this before you connect the call.

5. Number of callers

Whilst it may be tempting to get the whole family in on the call, this can be very bewildering for the individual on the other side. It’s difficult to distinguish who is talking and it takes a great deal of care to ensure no one is speaking over each other.

We suggest limiting the number of callers to one or two adults. However, you could perhaps take short turns, or bring on grandchildren or greatgrandchildren for a brief spell, maybe to show off some artwork.

6.     Clarity of speech

Even with the best connection, it can be harder to hear someone on video call. Make sure your microphone works well and that you are positioned close to the screen. Try to speak more slowly and clearly than usual. This will help to ensure that your loved one can hear and understand you. Remember to also pause and give them sufficient time to answer you.

7. Topics of conversation

It may be sensible, certainly for the first few times your loved one experiences video calling, to come prepared with some ideas to chat about.

There are all sorts of things you can talk about. Talk about what hobbies they are managing to continue, as well as share what you and your family have been doing. Try to limit talk about current affairs, especially in negative terms. Many elderly people are finding the current situation particularly worrying.

8. Length

We recommend short and sweet when it comes to video calls! Our residents find video calls particularly tiring compared to normal phone calls, whilst of course they appreciate seeing their family on the screen. Short calls of 10-20 minutes are best.

9. Clear hellos and goodbyes

In order to ensure your video call goes successfully, take particular care at the beginning and the end. Take more time over a hello and talk about saying goodbye, before actually ending the call. Make sure that your loved one has understood the call is about to end, that you’ll say goodbye and then leave the call. It can be helpful to ask them what they plan on doing next.

10. Be patient

Video calling may be second-nature to most of the population due to the limitations of lockdown, but for elderly care home residents it is often new. Give them time to adjust to this new way of communicating and in a short while it will work well for you both.

At Eastleigh, we’ve taken particular steps to support our care home residents in North Devon and Somerset with video calling. You can arrange to use Skype to speak with your relative between 10 am and 4 pm on weekdays, and our staff will be on hand to help them. Email the reception of their home or call us on 01769 573166.

We know that it is a worrying time for families and residents. A good care home should be doing everything they can to keep your relative safe and well. This includes helping them avoid any sense of loneliness and isolation. Video calling can help with this, but the above tips should help it to go smoothly.