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Connecting on a Budget: Video Chat Solutions for the Pandemic

Our thanks to Jim Vogel for this contribution to our blog.

Learn more about the mature consumer market at The Business of Aging.

The longer the COVID-19 pandemic lasts, the harder it is to remain isolated from friends and family. However, for older adults and other vulnerable groups, traveling and attending big family gatherings is still too risky. The need to connect safely during the pandemic has given rise to a demand for affordable, user-friendly video chat technology for older adults. But while tablets and gadgets are cheaper than a plane ticket, they still put a dent in older adults’ budgets.

How can older adults reap the benefits of social technology on limited budgets? These cost-saving solutions keep older Americans connected through the pandemic.

Free Apps for Staying Connected

For older adults on a tight or limited budget, free apps are the best place to start. Free apps for the social distancing era include the following:

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is a great tool because most of us are already on Facebook. In addition to chatting with friends, Facebook Messenger supports video calls for up to eight people and Rooms for 50.

FaceTime

FaceTime’s biggest drawback is that it’s only available on Apple devices. But for Mac users, this free iOS app is one of the simplest out there.

WhatsApp

Big family? WhatsApp supports group chats for up to 256 people so everyone stays in the loop. WhatsApp also supports video calling for connecting face-to-face.

Skype

Skype is another video chat solution that works no matter what type of device or operating system you’re using. Skype supports one-on-one or group video and voice calls.

Marco Polo

Marco Polo is the best app for families separated by time zones. Rather than chatting in real-time, Marco Polo lets users send video messages that can be stored and viewed any time. While Marco Polo’s premium version costs $5 a month, users can access the app’s core features for free.

Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party)

Whether families want to view a new release or a holiday classic, Teleparty lets them do it together with synchronized playback and group chat. Users need a Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or HBO subscription to watch, but the Teleparty app itself is free.

How to Save Money on Video Devices

When it comes to new technology, older adults prefer to keep it simple. Devices with complicated interfaces and batteries that constantly need charging are likely to end up in a desk drawer.

Tablets and smart displays are the best options for video calling. More comfortable than tiny smartphone screens, these gadgets are both feature-rich and easy to use. Unfortunately, they’re also pricey: Most smart displays start around $200. These include the Amazon Echo Show, Google Nest Hub, and Facebook Portal. Meanwhile, popular tablets like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab run anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to $1,000-plus.

Two notable exceptions are the Echo Show 8 and Fire HD. While these devices offer smaller displays than the other options, at around $100 they’re great options for buyers on a budget. Alternatively, buyers can wait for price drops on the most popular video calling devices. Watching the Daily Deals at Best Buy is a great way to get a steep discount on new technology. Shoppers can also use a Best Buy discount code to save at any time.

Not everyone wants to purchase a new device to video chat. Whether they’re minimalist or just on a budget, older adults can upgrade their video calling experience without spending hundreds. Many of the most popular webcams, including the Logitech C310 and Microsoft LifeCam, cost less than $50 and come with built-in microphones. A ring light or LED light panel ensures even lighting and good video quality at any time of day.

Now more than ever, it’s important to stay connected. While some older adults assume anything high-tech is out of reach, connecting face-to-face during the pandemic is more accessible than you might think. Whether an older adult has $50 to spend or $1,000, there’s a video calling solution that’s right for them.

10 Innovative Apps for Seniors

Our thanks to Artur Meyster for this contribution to our blog. 

Smartphones each year are farther away from being a cellphone and closer to being a mobile supercomputer. Therefore, it is undoubted that they play an essential role in our daily lives. The rapid advancements of technology have allowed developers to create apps that can make our lives easier—especially for seniors. Whether or not you are a fan of tech, below are some innovative apps that might come in handy and bring about positive impacts in your life.

1. FallSafety

The app offers help when you need it the most. With its intelligent fall detection feature, FallSafety can detect when a user experiences a fall and will automatically send an alert to an emergency contact or healthcare organization. The app takes a few seconds after the fall to send the alert, in case it’s a false alarm. The app is available for Android, iOS, and Apple Watch users.

2. Red Panic Button 

This app is for everyone to use in emergencies. If you find yourself in a threatening situation or if you worry about your safety, you can whip out this app and press the red button that will immediately send a text message and an email containing your GPS coordinates to your emergency contacts. This app is especially great for seniors who have problems with mobility as it will ensure they get the right help at the right time, with just a push of a button.

3. Lumosity

Lumosity is a brain-training app that can help improve a user’s memory and focus. While we could all use a little brain teaser every now and then, seniors especially can benefit tremendously by using Lumosity as it keeps the mind active in a fun way. The app offers various interactive features to sharpen your problem-solving skills and math abilities, among others.

4. Seniors Phone

At the rate of which technology is advancing, it is understandable how some seniors might find it overwhelming. That is, however, a problem of the past. Seniors Phone is an app that changes the user interface of any smartphone to a simplified version. You can customize everything—from the size of the fonts to the buttons—to make it easier for a user to navigate the smartphone. Some other features include bright-colored widgets for better identification and an SOS button which can send a distress signal to an emergency contact. 

5. VizWiz

Many seniors have deteriorated vision which can make daily activities a real challenge. Enter the VizWiz app, which allows a user to take a photo of their surrounding and receive the corresponding descriptions. According to its developer, the app combines automatic image processing, anonymous web workers, and members of the user’s social network in order to collect fast and accurate answers to their questions.

6. EyeReader

This is another app that is meant to help individuals with visual impairments. The app is essentially a unique reading magnifier that can help many who find it difficult to read the smaller print. As we age, our visions will likely deteriorate, therefore this app can prove to be really helpful for seniors to perform daily tasks that involve reading.

7. MedMinder

MedMinder is not only an app, but it is also hooked to an automated pill dispenser. This innovative device helps seniors to stay independent by alerting them about the right time to take their medications. Its safety features ensure that pill mix-ups are a thing of the past. The dispenser will be locked at all times unless it’s time to take a pill. First, the compartment will flash, then the device will make a beeping noise before sending an alert via the mobile app. If the patient fails to take the pill at the right time, the app will notify all caregivers. 

8. LibriVox

We all love a good story but what happens when your vision starts to deteriorate and reading becomes more of a hassle than a hobby? Opt for audiobooks. LibriVox offers an extensive list of audiobooks that are recorded by volunteers, available on the free public domain for anyone and everyone interested. Users can either choose to listen to the audiobooks online or download them for later. 

9. Yesterday USA

For those who are feeling nostalgic about the old times, Yesterday USA is the perfect app for them. The app is an internet radio station that broadcasts old radio shows from the 1920s to the 1970s. Now in its 31st year, the best part about Yesterday USA is you can tune in any time of the day as it operates 24 hours. 

10. Medisafe 

Medisfe is an app that works with Machine Learning and AI. The app is for seniors to keep track of all their medications. It gives reminders of when to take each pill and also alerts users when the prescription is running low. Medisafe also lets users enter their caregivers’ information, allowing the app to send alerts if the users forgot to take a pill.