Easy Videoconferencing Helps Seniors Fight Isolation, Virtually

By: Alan Pollock

 Connect with friends without having to worry about social distancing, using video chat.

CHATHAM — Social distancing is a public health necessity right now, but for people of all ages, it’s bringing feelings of isolation and loneliness. For seniors who might be away from friends or family, that social separation can take a particular toll.

But with some basic technology and some simple steps, it’s possible for seniors to connect with grandkids, friends and neighbors, and help’s available to learn how.

Chatham Council on Aging volunteers Regina McDowell and Dick Kraycir are ready to help seniors use Zoom, Skype or other videoconferencing software. The process is pretty painless, even for technophobes.

Kraycir (who proudly still uses a flip phone, by the way) says a video chat offers an experience that you simply don’t get on the telephone.

“Like many of us, I’ve picked up my phone book and started to call people I haven’t seen in awhile. And they seem happy to talk to somebody about anything,” he said. But there’s a feeling of connected-ness that comes with meeting face-to-face, even if by computer.

“The feature of being able to see you on the screen is really nice,” he said, chatting with The Chronicle by Zoom video chat. “I get a feeling I know who I’m talking to.”

Ideally, you’ve got a laptop desktop computer with a camera, and a high-speed internet connection. Maybe you use an iPad or other tablet, or perhaps just a smart phone. Any of them will work well provided there’s a good data connection. The choice of app is also a matter of personal preference, but most options are available for free for personal use.

  • Skype (www.Skype.com) has a feature called “Meet Now” that allows videoconferencing for free without the need to sign up or download software.
  • Zoom (www.Zoom.us) has a free basic plan that offers an unlimited one-on-one meetings, and free group meetings limited to 40 minutes. It also works on computers, tablets and phones.
  • Viber (www.Viber.com) works best on phones, and provides free texts, video calls and high-quality audio calls that use your Wi-Fi network. If you’re hard of hearing, you might find that Viber calls are clearer and easier to understand than ordinary phone calls.
  • FaceTime (www.Apple.com) is free and simple to use, but works best on Apple products like iPhones, iPads and Mac computers.

“None of these are that secure,” Kraycir said. “You need to use some street smarts.” If you’re looking for financial advice, for instance, a telephone call might be the best approach. “I shouldn’t be reading off my bank account to you or holding up my taxes for you to look at.” But for ordinary conversations, videoconferencing doesn’t pose any particular security risks, he said.

Zoom has a feature that allows a user to share his computer screen with another person remotely, for instance.

“That’s not a good thing to do,” he said. A clever hacker might be able to use the feature to acquire the computer’s location to exploit it later on. And the ordinary rules of electronic security still apply: don’t click on links from emails you don’t recognize, and don’t store passwords on the computer.

“I got hooked up with ransomware myself a year ago,” Kraycir said. “They tried to get into one of my bank accounts.” But because he didn’t have a password stored on his machine, the hackers didn’t succeed.

If you don’t happen to have a grandchild handy to teach you how to set up a video chat, you can call the Chatham Council on Aging at 508-945-5190 and leave a message. Staff will pass on your number to Kraycir or McDowell, who will call you back and help get you connected electronically.