The impact of face-to-face conversation with our elderly, whether it is in-person or via video, is unbelievable. And with today’s technology there is no excuse, but one thing makes the difference: quality. Here are the three things you need to focus on.
Your friends are perennial pocket pals. They’re in there now! Feel them? Sue sent a selfie. Buzz. Tony texted you. Da-ding. Fiona’s on Facetime. Ring-ring. Go look!
In our crazy connected world, seniors have missed out. 25% live alone. 40% feel lonely. Of those in aged care, 40% are visited once a month or less and 52% suffer from at least one symptom of depression. Studies link social isolation and loneliness to functional decline, poor sleep, blood pressure, depression, dementia and morbidity. As a health risk, social isolation is worse than smoking! Why do we neglect our ageing parents?
We don’t hesitate to spend on physical wellness. Hearing aids, glasses, scooters. However, we neglect mental health. We can’t talk about it, don’t understand its importance, and won’t spend on the right “tools”.
Phone calls are not enough
Too often, elderly care is left to one adult child. Too often, they burn out from carer’s fatigue, or place “Gran” in a quality facility and conceal their guilt. Other relatives absolve themselves by phoning daily, convinced that it’s enough. Is it?
In a study of 11,000 older adults, Dr Alan Teo (OHSU) showed that only face-to-face contact, at least 3 times a week, specifically with family and friends, reduces social isolation and halves depression risk. Phone conversations had no measurable impact.
“But we’re busy with our own family and work,” I hear you cry, “or too far away to visit often.”
Virtual visits work
When we talk, sound carries meaning and some emotion. Vision, however, adds considerably via non-verbal cues. Dr Albert Mehrabian (UCLA) found that body language accounts for 55% of our personal communication of feelings and attitudes.
Facial expressions communicate unspoken meaning and reveal inner thoughts. Nods, head tilts and yawns show our understanding and attentiveness. Smiles, frowns and eyebrow movements convey our emotions. And carers subconsciously interpret signs of good habits and health: Sleepiness, dryness, grooming, alert eyes – it’s all on display.
When we meet in the flesh, touch is used only fleetingly. A hug, a kiss or a handshake. Touch releases oxytocin, which makes us feel happy and loved… but so too does seeing and talking to someone you care about.
Can video calling – which carries sound and vision — therefore replace or augment in-person visits?
The right tools for elderly video calls
When surveyed, 82% of elderly said they’re willing to try video communication. Unfortunately, an estimated 90% of those in aged care could not use video calling apps, even on an iPad/tablet.
For older seniors, tablets are too small and fiddly: Hard to hold, tiny text, unexpected updates, scary pop-ups. Portability results in devices being dropped or misplaced, taken out of good Wi-Fi range, and left off charge. Video calling apps suffer from dozens of settings and options, and menus and icons that are hard to remember and change with updates. Something as simple as a bumped volume button requires IT support!
The Konnekt Videophone is the first video calling appliance designed specifically for the elderly and those with dementia or a disability. Awarded Best Consumer Friendly Product in Aged Care at ITAC 2017, Videophone is incredibly simple to use, featuring a larger pressure-sensitive touchscreen with huge buttons, very tall text and no menus. No computer skills are required whatsoever. It even comes with IT support.
To talk face-to-face to Videophone, you simply use Skype on your mobile device or computer.
Video conversation is like taking photos: To do it well requires the right technique and tools. Konnekt’s ten tips for Skype quality recommend:
- Internet: Wireless signal strength is critical. Get close to your Wi-Fi router.
- Video: Use front lighting, keep it still and minimize rear movement.
- Sound: For those without a Videophone, wearing a headset provides a vast
Headphones bring the speaker close to your ear. A headset also brings the microphone close to your mouth. Both reduce a metric known as loop gain, enabling the talker to be interrupted and to hear interjections that express degrees of interest (“a-ha”, or “ya” in Scandinavian) and facilitate comprehension. But you don’t have to worry about all that. Leave it to the experts and get a quality headset such as the Jabra Evolve 65.
Bonus: Prevent or reduce dementia
Still not convinced? Prof Hiroko Dodge (OHSU) showed that daily web-based face-to-face conversation, using a simple user interface, improves cognitive function after just 6 weeks. The results were so strong that two 5-year studies have been funded to quantify the benefits as a cost-effective technique to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s and dementia!
We need to look after the mental health of our elderly parents. Ask family to help, get them face-to-face with Skype, and arm yourselves with the right tools to succeed.
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John Nakulski is Marketing Director and Co-Founder of Konnekt.