In today's very mobile society, family members often live far away from each other, but that doesn't mean they don't want to be involved in each others' lives. Busy schedules, alternating time zones, and personal preferences for communicating certainly don't make keeping in touch easier.
Thankfully, there are lots of tools that can help far-flung family members stay connected whether it's for a family event or for help through a medical crisis or life transition. Coordinating care from across the miles becomes more manageable as long as you find the right tools to use.
The trick to success is determining the equipment that everyone can and will use. If Mom doesn't really like sitting in front of a desktop to pay bills, she isn't going to want to do it to say hi to the family. But there's likely a tech tool out there she will like.
According to Laurie Orlov, an industry analyst and founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch, families need to assess both the right tools and any obstacles family members might have to accessing those tools.
“The biggest barrier to tech use might be money," says Orlov, noting that Internet connections and data plans can add significant and sometimes prohibitive expense.
So if you want to keep in touch with a relative using any kind of electronic device, find out if they have reliable and affordable service and a device they are comfortable with. “Make sure they are outfitted properly," Orlov says. If texting or phones are easiest for everyone, find a phone with appealing features and outfit it with extras if needed. For example, if clear reception is an issue, a headset hooked into a smartphone makes it easier to hear, says Orlov, and amplified phones are also available.
Same family, different tools.
And it might take a while to find the right tool. Maybe a smartphone is your lifeline and your sister prefers a her laptop, but that doesn't mean Dad wants or needs the same tool to communicate with you. Maybe he prefers a large-size tablet or an easy-to-use smartphone designed for seniors. Some people will work best using a traditional desktop. As long as you can all coordinate and share necessary information, like general family happenings, medical appointments, scheduled tests, or even in-home care, then it will work.
Email, voice or skype?
Once you have the devices, figure out the best method to stay in touch. Some family members might find Skype intrusive while others love being able to see family in real time. For others, a quick email or text helps everyone keep in touch without the pressure of interacting in real time.
Tap into training resources.
Of course, technology is only useful if everyone knows how to use it, so training is essential, says Orlov. Using programs offered in stores, online, through AARP, or even the local senior center can make your family communication that much more effective. And make sure the training continues as updates and new technology can change how screens look or are used. “This is not a one time and we are done," Orlov says.
Whatever tools you choose, use them to keep your family running smoothly even if many miles separate you.
Read More: Cracking the Challenges of Long Distance Caregiving