Long-Distance Caregiving: Using Tech to Get and Stay More Connected Now
If you’ve found yourself scrambling to set up new ways to stay in touch with family and friends during the self-isolation precautions surrounding COVID-19, you aren’t alone.
The good news is, physical distancing while maintaining a close connection has never been more accessible or more affordable. We may be feeling our way through the “new normal,” and there’s a lot to learn, but necessity is the mother of adoption as well as invention.
A wide variety of tech tools, technologies, and platforms can keep everyone in touch as we maintain safe physical distancing.
In many cases, built-in cameras and microphones are ready to go. They just need a few minutes of setup and permissions to access them to turn smartphones, tablets, or even smart TVs into functional home-based videoconference centers:
- Weigh your options. And choose: Zoom? Google Hangouts? What’s right for your needs?
- Assess existing tech. Who has which device, operating system, and apps already? What’s the common denominator? If everybody has an iPhone, Group FaceTime may be a natural fit for your get-together needs.
- Get creative. Did you know you can cast Zoom meetings using a phone or tablet to make everyone bigger on your SmartTV?
- Add privacy and fun with custom backgrounds. Don’t feel like cleaning up your messy room, or want to make it look like you’re calling from Paris? Try adding a Zoom background to keep your get-together both entertaining and distraction-free.
- Let the big companies unite you for free. Install Facebook Messenger to access all your friends, no matter where they are, from any device with access to the social media giant.
- Learn how to use controls. Group meetings are more comfortable to follow and enjoy when everyone takes a few minutes in the beginning to review:
- Mute and unmute
- Video on, video off
- How to indicate you’d like to jump in or say something (raise a hand? Wave? A unique signal for your group?)
Hardware: Phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, and game systems
Many families can use existing devices, platforms, apps, and devices to coordinate no-cost/no cost get-togethers, no matter where they live. And they can do it without paying any more than they already are for cellular data and internet services.
Even if we hadn’t thought to do so before we all went indoors for safety, it’s easier than ever to commune with distant loved ones now—for a game night, bedtime stories, or even a singalong with friends and family.
Get the most out of devices and platforms
Smartphones, laptops, and tablets continue to function as they always have—as each person’s “home base” for communication and coordination, which make them critical tools in effective strategies for long-distance caregiving.
Here’s how to use their power for good in the era of physical isolation:
Use voice and screen tech to help everybody get set up.
There are many ways to connect—Zoom, Facebook (and its Messenger), Alexa devices, Skype–but first, there’s the setup process, and it’s generally the same for each.
Installing and giving permissions to cameras and microphones is generally straightforward for folks who are used to tech. But Grandma, isolating alone now, might need a quick look and some extra assistance to help her get everything in order. The best techie in the family can help by asking her to direct her phone’s camera at her laptop or tablet and telling her where to point/click. That intervention can help if someone is hung up on an installation or permission issue.
And if frustration is building, there are better and worse ways to handle that. It’s OK; take a few deep breaths and laugh; there’s plenty of time and no rush.
Make use of shortcuts like voice dialing, commands, and recognition.
Let the “smart” in your smartphone, tablet, or laptop do more heavy lifting than it has in the past.
While training a device to understand natural language commands can initially seem like rigamarole, the time invested creates a virtual “assistant” who can then do things even when the device is out of reach.
“Hey, Device, call my son.”
“Device, send a text to the family group.”
“Device, set an alarm for 8:00 pm Pacific Time” (for the Family Zoom meeting).
Use automation to keep track of schedules, habits, meals, and details—even when we can’t be in the same place.
When homes became combination workplaces, schools, and everything else (overnight!), all the tasks we used to do in different places collided. There’s a problem with that: We tend to think we’re good multitaskers, but that’s simply not true.
So if you worry that things may be falling through the cracks in a home where you can’t visit right now, let tech be your helper.
- Set up automated emails to ask how everyone is doing.
- Ask about specific things that help keep us healthy and reduce stress: Regular sleep, meals, hydration, hygiene, movement, and comforting/personally rewarding activities.
- Set alarms, alerts, reminders, and other automation tools on your own devices to help establish and maintain new routines for checking in and staying in touch.
Consider the place of smart home assistants and remote monitoring systems.
Standard consumer devices are outstanding for connecting most people more closely right now—and in the future.
But in some cases, limited mobility and other issues with older people aging in place can create unique burdens and concerns during times when physical contact with loved ones is finite.
Remote passive monitoring technology can help ensure everything is going OK when we can’t check in person. Active daily use of the drop-in features available for family groups through the Amazon Echo group of products is another option—a way to check in more frequently for peace-of mind when we can’t be with those we love physically.