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SBB University Caregiving Resources | Staying Connected to an Aging Relative

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Staying Connected to an Aging RelativeSBB University thanks Benjamin Surmi, MSG | Director of Education and Culture with Koelsch Communities for sharing his expertise on Staying Connected to an Aging Relative: Guiding families through difficult times of distance. 

Tools for Staying Connected

How will I stay connected to my aging relative? I cannot visit them in-person for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I cannot because their assisted living no longer permits visitors. Perhaps I cannot because I live far away or live with a disability myself.

Regardless, the plan for staying connected is essential for everyone’s well-being.

This article is a quick summary with links of the content shared during a 2020 online event. You may watch the event by clicking here.

You can download the slides with photos of each option by clicking here.

On July 19th, the Columbian in Vancouver, WA published a front page story about this important topic. Click here to read.

Typical Tools

Families commonly use tools like:

Non-New-Tech Typical Tools

  • Mail by Postal Service
  • In-Person Visits and Trips
  • Landline Calls

Typical Tech Tools

  • Smartphone Calls
  • Video Chat (FaceTime, Skype, Zoom)
  • Texting
  • Email
  • Sending Photos/Videos from a Smartphone

While this article focuses exclusively on newer “age-friendly” tech options, consider the following:Age Friendly Technology

  • Typical tools may work just as good or better than newer tools
  • Some typical tech tools may not work well for seniors who are at a later stage in their aging journey, live with forgetfulness, or never adopted newer technologies.
  • “Age-friendly” tech tools may add new ways to connect to your strategy

Big Three Tech Options

The Big Three — Google, Amazon, and Facebook — each have an option that may work for some families and some seniors.

They are very affordable with no monthly fee. And, most family members already have accounts with all three services. No new app to learn.

On the other hand, these tools are very affordable as personal data, purchases, and advertising revenue pay for the services. You’ll also want to consider whether you have someone in the family with enough know-how to do the initial set-up and protect the elder from unwanted virtual visitors. — Dedicated tablet or TV set-top-box -> Echo Show — Dedicated tablet on stand.

Google Hub — Dedicated tablet on stand.

Age-Friendly Tech Tools

The variety of tools now available gives families the freedom to choose a solution that matches the unique needs of an aging relative. For simplicity, we’ll break them down based on the technical know-how of the senior. We’ll also mark with tools appear to be dementia friendly.

All tools include family communication as a primary feature.

Every tool below is designed with ease-of-use and safety in mind. Almost every tool below requires setting up approved contacts for their elder, keeping them safe from unwanted callers or video visitors.

The list below is roughly sorted from most-complex-to-use to simplest.

Simple tablets or smartphones designed to make it easy browse the internet, call family members, and other typical tasks. Designers seek to make these tasks fool proof by eliminating as many screens/clicks as possible and enlarging icons. — A tablet with cellular data built-in.  A simple smart phone interface.  A simplified app interface. — A tablet with monitoring features. — A simplified app interface that supports translation between generations, transcribes speech, and converts speech to text. — An app that brings family members together with a relative to listen to music together. The app learns which songs bring the most joy to the elder.

Each of these options seeks to make the Echo easier for seniors to use. 

A familiar, everyday appliance like the TV can now be used for family connection and for connection with a vetted, wider network of fitness, learning, and socialization. 

These tools are pushing the boundaries of universal design to make sure that anyone, regardless of physical or mental disability can connect with people they care about.  Not available in the US yet. Looks and feels like an old fashioned TV but is really a set designed for elders with forgetfulness. 

While research does not appear to report the same benefits to phone calls as video chat, some will prefer phone calls to every other communication method. But, what if actually calling the aging relative is not reality?  The service learns each family member’s best days and times for talking by phone. The service calls the aging relative and a family member when they are both free to talk. — The service curbs repeat dialing, prevent calling during family quiet hours, and blocks frequent 911 calls or calls to shopping channels.

I recommend using a phone like this for someone with memory loss. And, if using a smart phone, consider using an old-fashioned phone accessory.

For some seniors, reading paper is still the most effective way to communicate. But, writing and mail may not be easy for family members. — Family and friends can add photos and text to an app; a magazine arrives monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly with the photos and messages.

SociAvi. ViewClix and Konnekt mentioned above can be set up to answer automatically.

Bonus Options — Families can send greetings, messages, and life history stories back and forth. It’s specifically designed for senior living communities. — Not yet launched. Cutti will be a robot that can move to the senior with video chat on its face.


Benjamin Surmi


Listening to stories of elders in my neighborhood inspired me to take the journey I am on now — designing fresh ways for elders living with dementia to thrive.

Learn more about Koelsch Communities:

Arbor Hills Memory Care Community

Saddle Brook Memory Care Community

Meadowbrook Memory Care Community

Riverside Inn at Fossil Creek

Watch the Video Presentation by clicking on the photo below.

Staying Connected to an Aging Relative

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Texas - Dallas, Collin, SE Denton & Rockwall Counties