Social Engagement:
Staying Connected

Issues to Consider

Ending isolation.

It’s not enough to have the latest safety or health gadgets, or the perfect house for growing older. Feeling connected to others, rather than being socially isolated, is a key to well being. Technology is a way to stay engaged and stimulated, learn and keep current, be in the loop with family and friends, and meet people virtually.

On smartphones, tablets and computers, your parents can check email, access the Internet, have a family conference call, text message or videochat with the grandkids.

If Dad can’t make it to a senior center, he might be able to participate virtually via a hookup screen. If he doesn’t have a ride to the senior center, you or they can hail a pre-paid driver on such phone apps as Uber or Lyft.

You have to know how to use that technology, though. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to get Mom up to speed, both in-person and online.

Tech designed for seniors.

Is your parent tech savvy—or not? Some devices are easy for any age, while others are geared specifically to seniors, such as GrandPad or AARP’s RealPad tablets. GreatCall has the Jitterbug Flip phone with big buttons as well as the Jitterbug Smart (both with live 24/7 Customer Care) and Samsung Galaxy S5 has Easy Mode. Sprint’s Senior ID Pack offers free apps for music, fitness, word games, Easy Type, and quick access to Flickr, Facebook (and even Senior Match!). It also has a feature to remember your medication.

Mastering technology.

Apple’s iPhone is another consumer-friendly option – with some help from the grandkids or the Apple store. Free help is available. For more live computer instruction, there’s Senior Net (50+ learning centers nationwide), AARP Tek workshops, GreatCall’s LearnLive, the Connections program (classes in metro areas taught at public schools, libraries, senior housing developments and senior centers), and New York City’s Senior Planet Exploration Center, a robust tech center for age 60+ created by Older Adults Technology Services (OATS). has free online tutorials about sites and apps such as YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, WhatsApp, Uber, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. It also lists best shopping sites and has information on Internet security and privacy.

Tech that talks and more.

Voice activation devices like Amazon’s Echo benefit both caregivers and those they care for. Internet-connected, it understands and responds to questions you speak to it (similar to iPhone’s Siri). Want to listen to Bach? It connects to major audio streaming services. What’s the weather, a distance from one place to the next, conversion measurements, details of a politician or a history event? It can also read you books. Echo learns your phrases and vocabulary over time to get you precise answers. If you’re living alone, Echo can be good company.

For people who are hearing impaired, Clarity Life offers phones and tablets.

Other ways to videochat include Skype, Google hangouts and Viber. Want free text message? Try Gchat (also has videochat), WhatsApp or Facebook’s Chat Instant Messenger.

There are also all-in-one systems like Independa, a TV with embedded software that includes photosharing, videochat, text messaging, a call button and a reminder (for medicines or appointments) section. GrandCare offers similar features as well as games, music, and, for those who want it, wireless and telehealth services.

Perhaps your Dad might like an online (free!), e-learning class. AARP offers some, as do universities and college consortiums like coursera. Another site teeming with course topics is Open Education Database (oeds).