Human connection via technology.

By Kelsey Pangborn, Communication Strategist at Three Pillars Senior Living Communities – Dousman, WI

At age 87, Lorraine lives in an assisted living apartment and her beloved husband, who needs a higher level of care, lives in the building next door. Daily visits are important. They’re an effort, but they’re a priority.

Charlotte and her kid sister, five years apart at ages 90 and 85, are the best of friends. Visiting each other is essential. Though they live only a mile apart, it’s sometimes an effort to get here or there, but it’s a priority.

Dennis’ independent senior apartment sits six states apart from his only child’s home. For this father-daughter duo, visits are a larger, planned-out effort, but a priority.

And then, when life happens – sniffles and sneezes rudely intrude, or a Midwestern snowstorm gets in the way of a long-awaited flight – plans for a visit can come to a halt. Social wellbeing is stifled and spirits fizzle fast; but not anymore for Three Pillars residents, thanks to Skype video calls. When a personal visit becomes impossible for whatever reason, a phone call is nice, but it’s no substitute. Feeling disconnected can be taxing, so when this happens, we’ve learned to grab the iPad and be thankful for today’s technology.

Skype Dates

At Three Pillars Senior Living Communities, the mission of meeting the social, physical, and spiritual needs of older adults takes the form of a plethora of high-quality services — one of which is having iPads available for resident use at each building to enhance leisure lifestyle. As technology-savviness has increased over the years, the iPads have seen a gradual increase in popularity for games, catching up on news, surfing Facebook, or browsing the internet. Lately, their value for what’s become lovingly known as “Skype Dates” has skyrocketed. 

The system is simple: the Recreation Therapist, Social Worker, or Concierge works with the resident(s) to schedule a convenient time for the date. When it’s time, the staff member signs in to the community account, helps initiate or accept the call, adjusts the tablet for an optimal experience, and steps away for the conversation to commence.

Technology at Work

In that moment when the connection is successfully made, when the iPads are adjusted, cameras are turned on, and loved ones catch a glimpse of each other, their whole-face-smiles and misty eyes are enough to turn anyone’s heart to a puddle of mush. For any time we’ve ever wanted to throw our technological device out the window for not behaving how we want it to, this beautiful example of technology at work makes old frustrations vanish.

And what does it mean for the residents? When a thank you card recently arrived for the staff who helped organize a Skype Date, it was a true testament to how very special the experience is for them. After a first video call experience, it’s usually talked about for days. It becomes the dinner hour conversation and word spreads enthusiastically among friends who are urged to try it for themselves. New dates and repeats are scheduled. Any insecurities about using technology are quickly shaken by the affirmation that staff is there to help them get set up, and after a few runs, a comfort level is established. Residents get used to tapping on the app icon and learn what to expect when placing a video call. Some even become independent with future calls. The way we see it, older adults who use technology in any way, especially to experience human connection, are enriched by moving forward with the times.

Most importantly, a Skype Date allows an older adult to see their loved one’s face. They don’t care if it’s through a black handheld rectangle and it doesn’t matter to them if they don’t understand quite how it works. What they care about is seeing their loved one when they thought they wouldn’t be able to, and seeing the look in their eyes as they say “I love you.”