Staying in Touch: Parents in Lockdown

It's a pretty common scenario at present. Your elderly parent, who lives at home — or in a nice senior living facility — is under "lockdown" for the foreseeable future. You can't visit. They are not super tech-savvy and don't regularly use Facetime, or Skype, or Zoom. And you are wondering what you can do to help them interact more with you and perhaps their other friends, who they no longer see.

What are the best solutions? We are exploring them, but we wanted to start by hearing what you do if you are in this situation. Are there products you like and have used? Are there other ideas about what to do?


Please add your experiences in the comment section below.

NOTE: If you are a product developer or vendor, or someone who is being paid to promote a specific product, please say so in your comment. What we really want here are comments from real people in the situation described here


More Research

Since this post was first created we have done quite a bit more research into this topic.




22 thoughts on “Staying in Touch: Parents in Lockdown”

  1. I have a 79 year old Dad in
    I have a 79 year old Dad in Canada and in-laws in their 80s in England who are in lockdown. As a mother to 2 little ones we are constantly in contact with them. We share virtual meals together (and dress up ‘fancy’ or as superheroes to make it more fun for the kids) and have had scavenger hunts led by grandparents from a distance (they read out clues and the kids in England and in Canada run around looking for things). We are lucky they are all on some form of video chat but I supplement this with snailmail. One thing I did recently for my Dad was I asked my friends to send him some snail mail – a picture, a short note, a memory about him from their own childhood – anything really. I offered to do the same for their parents. It’s kind of a mini-mail train in action! Also, I use an app called TouchNote (not affiliated just a happy customer) to send personalized postcards to the grandparents. It makes it really easy for me as a mom to send something personal to all the grandparents. Takes minutes to send a postcard! Also we recently tested out an app called Neveo – a family newspaper maker (they have a free 2 month trial so people can try it out). We upload the photos into the app with a little caption about each photo and they print it and send a family newspaper to the grandparents. We use a free video app called Marco Polo with Oma and Gramps in England. It’s kind of like a video walkie-talkie. My 83 year old mother in law loves it. It’s great if you are facing a time difference or if an older person has hearing challenges. It feels like a continuous conversation but each person can ‘watch’ and respond when it works for them. I am a care and connections researcher and I have a blog about helping grandparents stay connected to grandchildren. It’s full of ideas for grandparents to use to stay connected to grandchildren who are at a distance and is based on research about what works and also my own experience as an expat mum working hard to keep the kids connected to their grandchildren. I’m happy to share the website if it would be useful or chat with someone at Tech-Enhanced Life about some of the other products we use and things we do to stay in touch with the grandparents who are in lockdown. There are so many ways to stay in touch, to make it fun for kids and meaningful for older adults and to also nourish and strengthen bonds at the same time. Kerry

    • Thank you, Kerry. Your
      Thank you, Kerry. Your suggestions are very helpful. I just posted about my Mother and need new ways to stay connected. She just moved from SC to Florida and I am in Washington, DC. Most of the kids and grandkids are many miles away from her and knowing easier/more engaging ways to contact her is great.

      • Mariann, I’m so pleased the
        Mariann, I’m so pleased the suggestions are helpful! Thanks so much for your message. Kerry

  2. My family had just moved my
    My family had just moved my Mother to a new assisted-living facility before the pandemic struck in the U.S. I was scheduled to fly to visit her and help her get settled but the facility went into lockdown and is still not allowing visitors. My brother is local so he has been able to make a few “window visits” where a staff member arranges to bring her to a window and they talk on opposites sides via phone. It helps him to see that she is physically doing well and it has helped her combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. The big problem we have is that she is having cognitive challenges that make it difficult for her to use the phone. She had a landline at her last facility and she was having difficulty making calls, although she had no problem receiving them. She sometimes had difficulty telling the phone handset apart from the TV remote. In her new facility, we decided to supply her with a cell phone that supposedly had the ability to voice dial. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple to use. It is a flip phone and she often tries to use it upside down. She has difficulty keeping it charged and loses the charging cord. And, despite being set up with one-digit codes to call her children, she can’t seem to process that. The voice dialing requires hitting several button first and, despite training, and written instructions, she can’t retain the steps. So, we are left with two choices. First is an Amazon Echo device or installing a land line and purchasing a conventional phone that has photos for buttons. The landline is expensive and can’t be installed until the COVID-19 crisis has passed. The Amazon Echo device should work but my brother is not tech-savvy and has been hesitant to attempt to set it up. I am not sure I can set it up without having access to the facility’s wifi directly but I am going to try to do it, send it to the facility and ask them to plug it in. That is our new solution for the time being.

    • Hello Mariann Seriff ,

      Hello Mariann Seriff ,

      Here are some instructions your brother could review to see if he can set it up. If the facility won’t allow acees to their Wi-Fi you could buy a Wi-Fi hotspot from a cell phone carrier.

      As an alternative, there are some ways to make a Samsung phone look like a flip phone with the added feature not showing pictures of who to call on the home screen with one-touch.

  3. I am an Aging Life Care
    I am an Aging Life Care Manager and we and some of our client families are struggling because it is so hard to communicate with clients who have advanced dementia and also may be hard of hearing or have vision issues. We are able to communicate with some via phone, and if they are in a facility there may be a zoom or face time call facilitated by staff, but our clients often have difficulty participating in these and react more to the staff person assisting than the family member who is trying to communicate with them. Touch is very important and that is one thing none of us can do right now. We are open to creative tech solutions to this problem.

    • Hello Susy Elder Murphy,

      Hello Susy Elder Murphy,

      Have you considered asking the client families if they would be willing to buy an Echo Show for their family member in the residence? They don’t actually need to buy one for themselves, as they can just can with an Alexa app on their phone.

      Maybe you could buy one and demo buy allowing a client family to call into it with their family member using yours to see how well it works.

      Here are some step by step setup instructions

  4. I work on product strategy at
    I work on product strategy at iN2L and would welcome feedback if any of you have engaged with our products when communicating with a loved one living in a community. We sell engagement and communication technology to senior living communities, both large touch screen systems as well a tablets, that have family communication portals for loved ones to send messages and video chat with the residents. (We only sell to the community or to families through the community at this point in time.)

    • Hi Kari, I am not familiar
      Hi Kari, I am not familiar with iN2L but I checked out your website and it looks like you have a great product and an admirable mission. I’m very pleased to know that you are out there. I did my graduate thesis on using technology (specifically tablets) with older users for medication management. It was eye-opening. Many older users can benefit from the use of technology — as long as it’s designed with their needs/limitations in mind. Best wishes for your success.

    • Our community has iN2L but it
      Our community has iN2L but it is not available to residents other than through its big touchscreen monitor and that’s not accessible for us due to COVID-19.

      We hope that eventually iN2L will open the consumer market for those who either not in communities or who are in communities that haven’t bought the system or for those like us in communities with the system which is not readily available.

      Independa may be an alternative but it, too, does not have a direct to consumer initiative, and it needs help with its marketing.

  5. This is a great question. We
    This is a great question. We successfully included my mother in a Zoom meeting on Saturday, her 90th birthday. She had previously been unable to join a group of friends who normally meet in person bi-monthly; my mother tried to attend their first meeting over Zoom and couldn’t figure out how to join the meeting. She has a lot of difficulty with the conceptual aspects of the software: it is not intuitive where to find buttons or preferences, and if something doesn’t work the first time, she has no idea what to do. She managed to join us on Saturday because my husband spent an hour or more the night before on the phone helping her install Zoom and then another 30 minutes on the day talking her through how to join the meeting. Things like speaker view/gallery view also require tutoring for her and make the experience better.
    She has been using FaceTime for the first time during the pandemic. We found a young woman who is tutoring her in French over FaceTime and has been very patient about explaining how to use it. It can be very helpful to have another voice, a non-family member, for this sort of teaching.
    One question I have is which virtual meeting software is the easiest to use, whether FaceTime or Google Meets, for instance, might be easier than Zoom for a person who is not tech-savvy.

    • I do not have affiliation nor
      I do not have affiliation nor tried any of these, but have seen Whereby and Lifesize recommended as easier for older users. And there are companies that do trainings on Zoom, Facetime, email, etc. for older users, and are taught by older users: Senior Planet and GetSetUp.

  6. I am a retired woman living
    I am a retired woman living in my own cottage on the same property as my sister and her husband. We are all in our 70’s. I am the most tech savvy of our group. We stay home except for groceries and golf. I use telephone, email, text messaging, and FaceTime for staying in contact. I do not use Facebook, twitter or Zoom. I would like to learn more. I tried to comment but could figure out how to send it from your email, so I used the email format.

  7. Hi! Your information and

    Hi! Your information and website is so very helpful. Thank you. My father lives alone – he is 84 – 90 miles away. We have a dear friend who has been a life-saver thought the pandemic keeping him stocked with all the needs, checking on him daily, etc. I am normally up to see him at least every other weekend but have not gone up on two months given his health (heart/diabetic). Needless to say this has been hard all around.

    He uses a Mac mini and has an iPad. He uses his Mac several hours a day; however, use is limited to reading the news, checking accounts and checking email. Outside of those basic uses he is absolutely not tech savvy. He never got used to his iPad and doesn't really even know even the basics.

    Remote Access
    In March we managed to get LogMeIn installed (don't ask me how). It worked for a couple of days and frankly was just too complicated for me to handle and gave up on trying to figure it out when the connectivity just stopped. We did this in the free trial period. My manager recommended Splashtop which he has been using with his mother and two aunts for a year or so. WOW was that an easy installation – easy to use and very reliable.

    To get through the installation I had a screen open on my computer on the side as if I were installing the software on my own computer so I was seeing what he would see and could tell him where to click. This access has been absolutely invaluable. One tip I would have for anyone would be to set the Energy Saver setting to "never" in terms of the computer going into sleep mode. The screensaver will kick in but the computer can still be accessed. Unless the computer is on a LAN you cannot wake it up remotely. We had a health scare and learned this the hard way as I needed to pull some info and since it was in sleep mode could not.

    Many times, we use speakerphone so we both have our hands free. I can see what he is doing and guide him so he learns some extra things himself. I have realized that all these years I have not been doing him favors by just fixing issues and not having the patience to sit with him and have him take the steps. Mostly because I am not really sure what the problem is at the time and have to sit and ferret out the answer myself.

    Unfortunately, his monitor does not have a camera. It never occurred to me until two weeks ago the we could still do a Zoom call! He can see me – I can't see him but I simply cannot tell you how this has boosted his spirits. I use my iPad and flip the screen around and we take tours of our house – we hang out and "pet the cat" as we talk (I leave the screen on her) – we go find my husband in his office downstairs and both talk to him on screen – trip to the deck – etc. We have not been able to figure out how to get his system speakers to work so I learned that you can Zoom without using computer audio – we just use speaker phone on both ends.

    I send him an invite via email – “click on the blue line” – “click on allow” – “click on do not use computer audio” and we are set. He has got that down now so next time I take a walk I will Zoom him from somewhere in downtown Chicago to “walk” with me and see what I am seeing.

    I really, really wish I would have realized we could do this 6 months ago – pandemic or not this is fantastic. Eventually we will get FaceTiime up but he then will have to use a stand for it to keep it steady – his computer monitor is so much bigger and just “there” in a place where he is comfortable. Even when things are back to “ the new normal” – long way off – we will still use Zoom a few times a week. It has made such a difference for him – and me – the guilt over not seeing him – however misplaced due to the circumstances – is very, very real for me. To hear him happy is priceless and really helps my anxiety level too.

    Our next step will be to get FaceTime figured out on his iPad. Before Splashtop we spent a VERY frustrating week off and on trying to get it straight but it became very confusing for him between the computer versus the iPad and in the process he locked out his Apple ID. We got the ID reset once Splashtop was running. Now that he can see me on Zoom – I will be able to hold up my iPad and show him exactly what to do.

    We have made a lot of progress but the big helpers here technologically if I had to rank them in terms of quick hits – Zoom with even just one-way video, speakerphone, Splashtop.

    Thanks for all you do!

    • Hi Rachael B,

      Hi Rachael B,

      I also have been using Splashtop to help my 94 year-old aunt for problems on her Windows laptop. I'm glad to hear it also works with Macs.

      BUT, I have not found anything to let me remotely "control" her iPad or iPhone. I belive there are some "viewer" programs, but they require here to perform some actions before I can view them, such is giving me a temprary access code… making it too difficult


  8. Not about my parents.

    Not about my parents.

    i had the opportunity recently to call members of my community to help the synagogue stay in touch during the "sheltering in place" and to tell them that services would be on zoom. Someone who was not familiar with zoom, called me back several minutes before the zoom meeting and I walked him through the programming. He got on program and was able to participate in service.


  9. My son purchased an Amazon
    My son purchased an Amazon Echo for himself and me. No tech savvier required. I simply ask Alexa to: Call friends & relatives; Discuss current news; Keep me informed of my daily to-do’s and; much more!

  10. I have been reading about

    I have been reading about a product called Viewclix that requires no tech on the part of the receiver. It is for video calling and also acts as a picture viewer where family members with an app can send pix and videos. For the video calls, the receiver does not even have to touch a button to answer the incoming call. The reviews are excellent, and it has a simple setup.

    • Hi Cbush, Thanks for pointing

      Hi Cbush, Thanks for pointing out this device as I hadn't seen it. It looks like a great fit for a less-capable senior parent who would like the slideshow features and the occasional drop in video chat. It appears easy to setup and the price is good and NO subscription fee, compared to others I have seen.

      However, when I compare it to an Echo Show at the same point, I can see several features missing that a more capable senior parent who could speak Alexa commands to get spoken and visual responses to:

      Time of day, weather, news, calendar appointments, Prime video, Kindle books, Audible books

      Some seniors start to consider Alexa to be their “friend” verses a device with a remote control or a pre-configured tablet

      Thanks again for pointing out this device.