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How to use video calls to stay connected

Video calls have become the new norm when contacting people these days following the huge shift to online socialisation thanks to COVID-19 and its related restrictions.

Key Points: 

  • Videos calls have become more popular due to the COVID-19 pandemic 

  • Using video calls to stay connected is linked to lower risks of developing depression

  • Keep older people engaged during the video calls by incorporating games or activities

Older person on a video call with family
Family and friends found video calls a great way to keep in touch with their older loved ones. [Source: iStock]

A study from this year found that there was a huge uptake in video conferencing apps and programs in the first few months of COVID-19 with video calling increasing by 30 percent among research participants.

Family and friends found video calls a great way to keep in touch with their older loved ones so they don't feel too isolated from the outside world. 

Staying connected with your friends and family is really important for older Australians and utilising video call technology can be really beneficial to their wellbeing. A study from 2019 even found that video calls can lower the risk of older people developing depression.

Many older Australians have now developed the technical skills to utilise video calls from day to day, however, if you haven't got your head around things, we've gathered some helpful tips and tricks to put into practice the next time you start a Zoom call.

Ways to video calls

There are many different ways that you can connect via video calls to your older loved ones, whether that is through a phone, computer or tablet.

Technology group, Apple, created their FaceTime application, which is only accessible if both parties have an Apple product, like an iPhone or Apple computer. Up to 32 people can be included at once, but they do all have to have an Apple device.

Android phones and Apple devices can both utilise WhatsApp video calls. The application is free and only requires an internet connection to use. If you have a large family, then hopefully the 256 person video call limit will be enough!

Android phones can use Google Duo, which is available through the Google Play Store. Up to 32 people can be on a call at once. Google Duo can also be connected with the Google Nest Hub, making it easy to make last minute video calls to family. 

If the older person uses Facebook, they may have access to Facebook Messenger, which also has video call capabilities. Some new capabilities on this application include being able to watch a movie or TV show over the device while your friend is on a video call with you! Messenger can now host up to 50 people on one call.

All these applications, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Google Duo, are free.

Other video calls applications include Skype or Zoom, both programs are free but you can pay for extras to enhance your experience. Skype has a range of features, including HD video, screen sharing, and call recording and live subtitles. It can also hold up to 100 people on a call. Zoom is a similar alternative to Skype, providing similar accessibility and features, and can host 100 participants in a video call. However, if you upgrade to a paid account, you can have a large meeting account that hosts up to 1,000 people.

These applications can be used for any situation, it just depends on preference or what is easier for you and your family.

A new way of communicating

The University of Sydney released their top recommendations on how to have successful family time using video calls. These include:

  • Schedule a time that best suits everyone. For some older people, having a video call at night can be difficult, as they may have a certain time they go to bed or if they have dementia, they may be distracted in the afternoon to night time. Make sure the time of the video call is beneficial to everyone's circumstances.

  • Frequency and duration. Try to pre-organise how long the video calls will go for, if the older person is feeling more anxious having frequent video calls during the week can be more beneficial than really long video calls.

  • Look at the camera and smile! Eye contact has been shown to encourage better communication and also make the individual feel connected with who they are talking with. Make an effort to look directly into the camera when talking so your older loved one feels that connection.

  • Remove any background noise or distractions. A video call during the day may mean more surrounding sounds. Try to find a well-lit room that doesn't have too many easily heard sounds. This will make it easier for everyone to hear and see you.

  • Use gestures and facial expressions. To keep the older person engaged, it can be nice to use lots of hand gestures and facial expressions which will make the video call feel more authentic.

  • Write down topics to talk about. Sometimes video calls can be a bit awkward; it can be common to feel a bit lost about what you can talk about next. Writing down some topics that you can talk to the other person or group about can make it easier in the run rather than scrambling to think of something on the spot.

How to make video calls more engaging

Some suggestions from the University of Sydney on how to keep the video calls engaging for everyone, including those in aged care, who often can't move around inside their nursing home as much as they usually would for COVID-19 safety reasons are:

  • Read a book together or have a mini book club. Engaging with each other's interests can make the video call so much more engaging for everyone in the video call.

  • Eat together. While you may have very different meals from each other, eating together can make everyone feel more at ease during a video call. It can feel like a throwback to when you were able to have family dinners.

  • Show off your talents. Some people have been showing off their music, dance and singing skills, especially young grandchildren who are keen to showcase something new they have learned, it can make a video calls so much more engaging.

  • Play a game. Some video calls applications have incorporated games between users to make the time more fun. Alternatively, there are many other mind games you can do via video calls that can bring just as much enjoyment.

  • Bring along your best jokes. Sharing is caring, especially if it comes with a laugh or two. Pick up the best jokes from your neighbours or next-door residents, and see what your family think!

  • Read a bed time story to young (grand)children or get them to read part of their favourite book to you.

Teaching video calls

Be patient when teaching an older person how to use video call technology. Older Australians didn't grow up using technology from the get-go, it was something they had to learn later in life. 

It's harder to pick up new technology and technical skills as an older person, it can be foreign and confusing.

Provide a step by step worksheet for them afterwards so they have something to refer to after you have shown them the basics of how to start a video call.

The Federal Government Be Connected program can be a fantastic starting point for building your online skills. Alternatively, National Seniors has a Digital Assistance service which you can apply for.

What do you enjoy about video calls and who do you keep in contact with through video call technology? Tell us in the comments below.

Related content:

What is the Community Visitors Scheme (CVS)?
How to plan for busy holidays
Mental health services for older people in aged care

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