Video calling: What can we use to connect with our parents?

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What can we use to connect with our parents?


My parents have smartphones (iPhone and a Samsung phone), a laptop and a tablet. They mostly use the smartphones for calling, the laptop for email and news, and the tablet for solitaire and e-books. My siblings and I want to set them up with video calling so we can stay connected. What options are friendly for seniors and work with their devices?

Our answer

Video calling offers a wonderful opportunity to build social connection, but starting something new can be challenging. There are many options for video calling, and the range of choices itself can even be overwhelming. We have listed a few options below that are compatible with those devices and are simple and user-friendly:

  • Displayed are two seniors lying on their bed and having a video chat on their tablet with loved ones.Skype by Microsoft is a video chat application for smartphones and tablets and a program for computers.  It is also available through a computer browser. Users must create an account, and from there, create connections with the individuals that they would like to communicate with. Skype to Skype calls are always free, there are costs for premium features including voice mail and calling phone numbers.
  • Zoom by Zoom Video Communications offers video chat as an application for smartphones and tablets, and as a program for the computer. The free version of Zoom can be a very simple option for one-on-one calls, but any group calls are limited to 40 minutes. The Pro version is $20 (CDN) a month and allows the user to conduct longer meetings with more participants. The limit is incredibly high for business users so the limit of 100 participants and 24 hours in call length should meet the needs for personal use.
  • LinKello is a very simplified video calling option because it does not require an account. The website lets you create a web link (URL) to a video call screen for free. This link can be accessed on an internet browser on a computer, a smartphone or a tablet for 24 hours after being set-up. Joining the call just requires the user to put in a name that will last for the duration of the call. Setting up the link and sending it out may be a challenge, particularly if the senior would like to initiate the call. A paid version of the service allows for a permenant link to be established so that anyone with the link can join the call at any time.

Login information that requires an account and password can be a barrier for some senior users. Some services that the individual may already use might include a video calling option, which can provide an additional sense of security and familiarity. Some examples include:

  • Facebook Messenger has video calling built-in. People who already have a Facebook account may find this process simpler. It’s free and requires both parties to be friends on Facebook. Facebook has some easy-to-follow instructions on how to begin a video chat.
  • Google Hangouts and Google Duo are two great options for people who may already have a Google account, including a gmail account. Google Hangouts offers video calls, phone calls and text messages to stay connected with contacts. Google Duo is uniquely simple as it is intended for just video calling. Both of these options are free and available across Android and iOS tablets and smartphones and as a web application for computers.
  • WhatsApp offers text and video calling on Android and iOS tablets and smartphones. For computer users, there is the option of WhatsApp Desktop which would work like a computer program and WhatsApp Web which is accessed through the browser. The account set up requires a phone number, and it can be set up with a landline if the user cannot receive text messages.

For iPhone or iPad users, FaceTime is a video calling app that comes pre-installed. It can be installed on some other Appl,e devices, such as Mac computers. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to get FaceTime on a computer or Android device.

You might also be interested in reading this article from The Philadelphia Inquirer that has some suggestions on how to help introduce video calling to senior relatives.

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