COVID-19 has been challenging for seniors in more ways than one. We all know people age 65 and older are at higher risk for COVID-19 and that isolation is the best way for them to stay safe during the pandemic.

But for seniors living alone, this isolation can trigger a serious side effect: loneliness. Here are four ways seniors can fight loneliness and connect with family and friends using technology that’s easily available to everyone.

1. Cell Phones

Many seniors already have a cell phone. In fact, we know of several Gen Xrs and Millennials who have purchased smartphones for their grandparents. They’ve even downloaded family photos to the phone and spent hours showing their loved ones how to scroll through photos, text family members and even play games. Some seniors love this technology. Others not so much.

Truthfully, some seniors really don’t want to be bothered with learning all the ins and outs of their smartphone. They’d just as soon use it only to check in with family members each day via text, share pictures of their day or make brief phone calls. Yet other, more adventurous seniors, may want to experiment with more of the phone’s technology. However your loved one likes to use their phone, the important thing is for them to feel connected.

There’s no denying cell phones are a powerful way seniors can fight loneliness. If you’re in the market for an easy-to-use smartphone for an older person, LiveWire has a few recommendations.

2. Social Media

There’s a reason why Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms among older adults:  it’s easy to use and allows people to keep tabs on family and friends. They can see what they’re up to and use chat tools to stay in touch. Although many seniors don’t actually post much themselves, they definitely enjoy reading stories and watching videos posted by family and friends.

Older adults can access Facebook from their home computer or smartphone. However, many seniors prefer to use tablets thanks to their intuitive interface, light weight and large screen. That’s especially true for seniors with arthritis who struggle using a mouse. iPads are a hit with older adults because they’re easy to learn and use. If that’s still too complicated, try a simplified tablet like Grandpad designed exclusively for seniors. Having fun with social media on user-friendly devices can be a great way for seniors to fight loneliness.

3. Video Calling

A tablet is also great tool for making video calls to family and friends. While video calling comes with a learning curve for many older adults, loved ones can simplify the process by pre-installing video chat apps on a tablet then shipping or delivering it to an older family member. FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, Skype and Zoom are among the best apps for older adults. Keep in mind that FaceTime calls are limited to Apple iPhone users.

If a senior doesn’t have a tablet or is struggling to figure out video calling, a smart display like the Amazon Echo Show or Facebook Portal could be the solution. Since smart displays can be controlled by voice command, seniors don’t need to be tech-savvy to use them.

4. Virtual Reality

Seniors can fight loneliness – and enjoy a quick “getaway” – through virtual reality. Virtual reality may not help seniors stay in touch with family and friends, but it can make them feel connected to the outside world during the pandemic. Whether it’s virtual “travel” to a new country or playing a game, VR makes life at home feel less mundane for seniors in isolation. As we wrote in an earlier post, VR can even fight feelings of depression.

VR headsets are more costly and complicated than other devices, making this solution best for older adults who embrace technology. Still, families can lessen the learning curve by purchasing a standalone VR headset like the Oculus Quest.

Online Safety for Seniors

While getting seniors connected can help fight loneliness, it also exposes them to online safety risks. Make sure you’re keeping your loved one safe by educating them about common online threats like viruses and identity theft. While relatives can install antivirus protection and set up safe passwords for seniors, it’s also important to have a conversation about internet scams that target older adults. People who recognize scams are less likely to fall victim to one.

You may think these ideas are beyond your senior loved one’s abilities or interests, but don’t underestimate the ability of older adults to learn new tech! With the right senior-friendly technology, not to mention patience, you can help seniors connect with family and the outside world. Most importantly, you can reduce their risk of loneliness and feelings of isolation during the pandemic.

By Mary Shannon, seniorsmeet.org