Getting the most from video chat

There is no doubt that video chat tools such as Zoom, FaceTime and Amazon Echo Show have made the isolation of older adults much more bearable. While not the same as an in-person visit, video chatting has been demonstrated to reduce depression in older adults by 50% when compared with other forms of connecting.

Video chatting with grandchildren is an art. Keeping their attention is a challenge, along with finding a “good time” to talk. Here are some tips you may want to go over with your loved one to help make video visits a positive exchange for all involved:

The physical environment. Pick a spot where the lighting is in front, not behind. “Backlighting” creates more of a silhouette, making it harder to see faces. Reduce background noise. (Turn off televisions. Move to a quiet room.) Mount phones or tablets on a tripod to free up both hands for gestures or showing off objects.

Create a routine. Make storytime with grandpa a regular activity before bed. Or maybe have grandma call while you are cooking dinner so the kids are entertained while you prepare the meal. Agree on a mutually convenient time that works for all three of you.

Prepare for the call. As the parent, ask your child what they want to share with grandma or grandpa and bring it to the phone station. Before handing the phone over to your child, give your parent a quick run down of interests in the last hour or day so they can be sure to inquire about activities that are top of mind. As the grandparent, have a favorite book or object at the ready that you want to share in return.

Bring out the inner hambone. The joy of video chats comes in the ability to interact. Kids love movement, silly faces and gestures that can be done together. Babies enjoy patty cake and peek-a-boo on video. And blowing kisses. Older children enjoy activities such as “Freeze Dance”—like musical chairs except the players freeze like statues until the music starts again.

Start with short, 5 minute visits. Work up gradually to longer visits as you all get used to this new medium.

Will we ever hug again?

Hugs are more than a symbolic display of affection.

They have actually been shown to release oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which calms our nerves and reassures us that we are loved and we belong. Like everyone, older adults have a basic need to hug and be hugged. And grandchildren are often the joyful purveyors of sweet, soul nurturing embraces. One reason hugging is so dangerous now is that close proximity means we breathe into each other’s air space. Since the virus is spread by tiny droplets in aerosol form, face-to-face hugs are especially risky.

Imagine that every exhale is like smoke. It wafts in the air, even from children, dissipating gradually over time. You can see why we wear masks! According to aerosol specialists at Virginia Tech, there are things adults can do—and teach children to do—so that grandma and grandpa may feel safe enough to be back on the hug circuit.

  • Always wear masks. They seem to protect both the wearer and the person on the receiving end of the hug.
  • Keep your hugs brief. 10 seconds, and then step away to a six-foot distance.
  • Look away from each other. Head-on or cheek-tocheek hugs put you right in each other’s jet stream. Instead, turn your heads so you are facing different directions.
  • Hold your breath. From the time you approach to the time you step back. Another reason or cue to keep the hug short.

A hug around the knees or waist from a little one is fine. The adult should turn their head away so they aren’t breathing down on the child.

An affectionate kiss on the back of the head is also relatively safe. Hold your breath and try not to exhale until you are appropriately distanced again.

Source: Dee Childers, Life Changes Elder Care, LLC