Using technology to keep in touch
Technology provides an array of communication methods so people with dementia can keep in touch with family and friends. It can bring the world to where the person lives and help them to maintain important relationships.
Keep in touch with family and friends
Email, internet phone services such as Skype and social media are inexpensive ways to stay in touch and offer advantages to people with dementia.
On this page:
Why use email with people with dementia?
- Copies of all emails are automatically stored so that each can be re-read every time an email is sent or received – a help with recall.
- Emails can be drafted and then easily amended. They don’t have to be sent immediately.
- Email systems have an address book function, so that people do not need to remember addresses.
- Photographs are easily sent as attachments or as links to online galleries.
- Emails can be sent anywhere in the world at no cost.
Useful kit for emailing
- A desktop computer, laptop or tablet
- Access to the internet
- Web-based email such as Gmail, Hotmail or an email provided by an internet provider.
Hints and tips for using email
- Make sure the friends or family the person wants to communicate with are willing and able to reply and that you have correct email addresses. Receiving no reply to emails can upset people.
- If you need to assist people with setting up or sending emails, make it clear to them that this means their emails are not completely confidential.
- Each individual should have their own email address so that correspondence can be kept private.
- Have a system for keeping email usernames and passwords safe and private.
- Check email addresses regularly to remove spam (unwanted mail such as adverts) before it reaches the person.
- Digital Unite has a useful guide to setting up emails.
Why use internet phone services with people with dementia?
Some services allow people to talk to each other over the internet. These are called voice over internet protocol, usually shortened to VOIP. Skype and Apple FaceTime and Googletalk are examples. The software is free and if the people you are calling also have the software, the call is free anywhere in the world.
You can also call ordinary phones (including mobiles) more cheaply with VOIP than if you were using conventional landline phone services because the software uses the internet to connect calls. For more information on how to use VOIP cost-effectively, visit Money Saving Expert.
The other advantage to helping people with dementia use internet phone services is that you can use a webcam, so that you can see the other person as well as hear them. This can be great for talking with people who are not able to visit. People who use sign language can communicate, often for the first time. Some people with dementia may find video calls confusing or disturbing, as they look like TV images and people do not expect to interact with the TV.
Useful kit for internet phone calls
- A laptop, tablet or desktop computer
- Access to the internet
- VOIP software, such as Skype or FaceTime
- The computer may have an inbuilt microphone and speakers. If not, you may need to get a headphone and microphone to plug in to the computer. These are not too expensive and they are more private
- If you want to make video calls, you need a webcam. These are not too expensive either and they can be attached to desktop computers. Many laptops and tablets have them built in
- You can use some mobile phones (smart phones) to make VOIP calls, though many find the screens too small.
Hints and tips for internet phone calls
- VOIP services can be fiddly to set up. Get everything ready to go before the person is ready to call and use the test functions in the software to check it all works. You need to keep the time between the person wishing to make a call and then making it as short as possible.
- Coordinate with the other parties to make sure they are online at the agreed time.
- If you don’t have a good internet connection, the quality of the call can be poor, particularly on video calls.
- People with hearing problems may find it harder to hear web-based calls than phone calls.
- Make sure you get the privacy settings right. On Skype for example, the default setting means other Skype users know when you are online, meaning you might get unwanted calls.
- Digital Unite has a useful beginners’ guide to using Skype.
Case study: Mrs G and Skype
Mrs G for a couple of years has spent her winters in the West Indies. Each time she is away, her children and grandchildren only speak to her by phone. Recently, she was given a tablet for her birthday but apart from playing games with her grandchildren, she was not sure what else she could use it for. Her children encouraged her to join a drop-in club to see if she could learn something new. The tutors took time to get to know Mrs G and to find out what she might be able to use her tablet for.
Mrs G has a close relationship with her daughters and grandchildren. She says ‘They’re always trying to get me to try new things, but I always tell them that I’m too old.’ Mrs G told her tutor she is planning to go away this winter again. ‘I’m looking forward to heading back to the West Indies for winter, London is always too cold’ so her tutor told her about Skype. Over two sessions, Mrs G was guided to create a Skype account. She learned how to add contacts, then how to make Skype voice and video calls. Mrs G was delighted. ‘I can’t believe it. I can see my children and grandchildren while I am away in the West Indies, and I can’t wait to show them what I can do now.’ Staff encouraged her contacts to upload photos by instant messaging them so it would make it easier for Mrs G to look at their photos and to call friends and family.
Helping the person with dementia to communicate
It is important that the person with dementia is able to communicate with their friends, family and carers, hopefully as independently as possible, both in times of emergency and non-emergency.
Some useful options
Mobile phone pendant
A little device, normally worn around the neck, which allows the wearer to call a pre-set list of carers by pressing the SOS button. The pendant includes a microphone and speaker, and as the call is made over the mobile phone network, it can be used inside and outside the home environment. Carers can even call the device, with the call being auto-answered.
Digital cordless phone
A little device, either worn as a watch, or around the neck, which enables someone with dementia to receive incoming landline calls, by just pressing one button to answer the call. To make a call to a pre-set list of numbers, the wearer just needs to press both buttons at the same time.
Find out more: Minifone
Big button photo phone
A big button landline phone, with photos, allowing the person with dementia to call loved ones, just by pressing their photo. Also especially adapted to work with hearing aids, and has a very loud volume for those who are hard of hearing.
Find out more: Mybelle 650 Hearing Aid Compatible Phone
An auto-dial telephone can make a call to carers if the phone is taken off the hook without further buttons needing to be pressed.
Find out more: Rotary Style Telephone CL60
Simple mobile phones
A mobile phone, with easy access buttons to call a small number of people, using simple names next to the buttons to help the person with dementia.
Find out more: Doro Secure 580
Disclaimer: The products mentioned are to provide ideas for consideration only, none are endorsed by SCIE.