Staying in Touch, Older Adults

from: Longevity Explorers | Aging in Place Technology

Research Archives: Requires Archive Access.

Discussion Summary

Keeping Older Adults In Touch

We had another successful Aging in Place MeetUp last week. With about 20 attendees we focused the unconference this session on tools to help older adults to keep in touch.

Five Minute Presentations

We had only one five minute presentation; this one was about older adult needs for a contact manager.

The presentation was about a contact manager that was developed for a quadriplegic user who had limited use of one hand. The display presented a wealth of information on each contact and had powerful ways to link various contacts together. This presentation of much information on one screen was one affordance - the user did not have to manipulate some control to drill-down for information. Another key affordance was that navigation could all be controlled by the four arrow keys. This allows the user to more easily move to the information or controls he needed.

The group spent some time talking about how a contact manager might be tailored to the needs of older adults. We noted that older adults might want less information on a screen. Not that they want a drill-down, they just may not need the power of all that information. Older adults will also want larger display text than normal, a photo of the person, simple navigation. There might even be two user interfaces: one to use by an assistant to load the contacts and another to be used by the older adult to access the contacts. The group thought that instead of creating a new contact manager, it would be better to focus on putting a more targeted user interface on top of the existing smart phone contact database.


The unconference focused on tools to help older adults keep in touch. Some bullet points of the things we discussed:

  • Children today only respond to text messages, they do not answer the phone. If there was some easy solution to video conferencing, would a younger person answer those incoming calls? It seems that the solutions can focus on the child initiating the contact to the parent - how can the parent easily find the device and accept the call? Would it be better to have a dedicated "video conference device", even if it is a general purpose tablet with restricted functionality? It was mentioned that if a child doesn't initiate a phone call to a parent today, why would they initiate a video conference a parent?
  • Video conferencing is superior to a phone call. The users are able to see and respond to body language. The calls become more of a visit than a tight conversation. Particularly with mobile device video or mobile robots, the users might walk around their home, make a cup of tea, hold up a photo - all things one might do in a real visit.
  • It is better to speak more frequently for shorter periods. It enhances the emotional connection and conversations don't become burdensome for either party. A best practice is to schedule regular call times. Another is to put tape over the video camera so the older adult feels in control of when a video image will be streamed.
  • Why is it so hard to add a photo into a video conference?
  • Older adults who don't have a tablet or smart phone would have to take a video conference on their laptop or PC. If so, those may not be located in a comfortable location. Acceptance of video conferencing by an older adult might be better if they can sit in their favorite chair for the conversation. Would it be best to have a solution that used an existing TV for the older adult's video conference device? How does an older adult hold or position an iPad for use when in bed?
  • The killer use case in this seems to be chatting with grandchildren. For one thing, the older adult is willing to learn to video conference to be able to see and interact with the grandchild. Also, the children are willing to initiate these calls to keep their parents involved with their own children. Good apps will offer some feature to facilitate the grandparent - grandchild interaction - reading together, playing simple games, etc.
  • One story told of a 102 year old who was assisted by her son in a conference call with a cousin she had not seen in years. The call was very satisfying to both. The 102 year old would listen to what the remote user was saying, but then direct all her comments and questions to her son to repeat. It became clear that she didn't understand that she could, in fact, talk to the person on the video conference.

Beyond video conferencing, we talked about how playing a game like Words With Friends has kept parents and children in touch. Even though there is no dialog, the parent knows "he's thinking of me right now". We also decried the difficultly in sharing photos on a regular basis. Solutions often make it easy to share a "photo stream" but the older adult might not be able to routinely access that stream. Remotely accessible photo picture frames are available, but not that easy to use; and with a monthly fee they seem excessively expensive.

The discussion was wide ranging and we covered more than what your humble reporter was able to capture. Perhaps you should attend the next AiP MeetUp in person!

Thanks to Walt and Volare Systems for providing the food and drinks, and to TechShop for providing the meeting space.


Log in to learn more and to listen to the audio recording. 



Interested in what our circles of older adults discuss?


Get Longevity Explorer Discussions by Email.


Sign up to get Tech-enhanced Life's email newsletter, which summarizes the discussions from our Longevity Explorer circles each month. See what our explorers care about, are interested in, and are exploring.

Comes monthly. No spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

Dig Deeper

Insights for Innovators

More discussions