Senior man and woman using a tablet to video call with their family on Christmas day in a living room at home.

Given the vulnerability of older Canadians to COVID-19, we’re empowering seniors to learn how to use technology to have fun and stay connected with family this holiday. In addition to hosting socially distanced festive and charitable activities, we’re also organizing online workshops to help seniors and their families discover new ways to enjoy the holidays, including virtual holiday dinners, sending e-cards, sharing Christmas music and more. Through our “Digital Citizen” partnership with Best Buy Canada, Geek Squad Agents teach digital skills and offer tech support to seniors at selected Amica residences. Try these ideas to touch base digitally over Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve and throughout the year.

“There’s a misconception that seniors aren’t interested in technology, but in fact they really want to learn,” says Rei Ahn, a Best Buy Knowledge Base Specialist who has helped develop the Digital Citizen program for Amica. And we’ve seen amazing outcomes with people being able to connect to their family. When the pandemic first started, we taught a gentleman how to use Zoom so he could watch his granddaughter graduate, and he was able to watch her walk across the grad stage. It was really special.”

Go slow and start with the basics

Prep yourself or your family for digital holiday events and opportunities days or weeks in advance. Whether you are using a laptop or desktop computer, a smartphone or an iPad, follow or share digital instructions slowly. For example, if you’re talking to a senior about connecting on an iPad, tell them to start by touching the button at the bottom of the tablet rather than instructing them to “press the home button,” which they may not know the name of. Instructions should begin with turning the device on, connecting to Wi-Fi and onward.

“Patience is key,” says Ahn. “Remember that even tactile experiences like tapping a screen may be different for some seniors. A lot of times people tend to hold on to it longer, or they don't have the same agility.” Seniors at Amica can ask team members for assistance with personal tech. Busy caregivers or those who live far away can also hire remote tech assistance for a senior who lives alone, using providers such as Geek Squad, TechServe or Seniors Tech Services.

Try a virtual holiday dinner

If in-person holiday gatherings aren’t possible this year, apps like FaceTime, Skype, Google Meet and Zoom can offer a sense of togetherness at Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Have everyone practice logging into your family’s preferred video chat app beforehand. Make virtual dinners a success by making sure your food is ready in advance, decorating your background with a table-top Christmas tree or ornaments and even playing some soft holiday music for a festive feel.

“It’s good to do a test run before the big day,” suggests Ahn. If you’re organizing a remote holiday event that includes an independent senior at home, consider having dinner and flowers delivered so they can focus on enjoying the virtual festivities.

Teach seniors how to send digital ecards

Holiday eCards are hardly new, but they can be a fun and heartwarming treat for a senior who hasn’t sent or received one before. (And a necessity if it’s not possible to get to a post office to mail traditional cards this year.) Walk through the steps of signing up for and using online sites such as BlueMountain.com, 123cards.com or jibjab.com. (Giftcards.ca lets you send electronic gift cards redeemable at popular retailers, too.)

“It’s about finding different ways to bring holiday joy,” says Ahn. “Holidays are going to be so different this year, so it’s great to help seniors find new ways to make it happy.”

Make musical memories

If you haven’t already done so, take the time to show your loved one how to search for Christmas songs and movies for free on YouTube or via subscription on Spotify, Netflix, Apple Music or other streaming services. Plus, research and send web links via email to free holiday concerts across the country.

At Amica, we’ll also be live streaming a holiday concert in partnership with Roy Thomson Hall on December 20, as well as hosting a virtual holiday piano performance with Amica Peel Village resident, Herb Williams. (Read about how the Geek Squad helped him build new skills and get interviewed on Breakfast Television earlier this year. Plus, discover other virtual holiday ideas in our article, Connecting with seniors over the holidays.)

“Music is such a big component of our holiday memories,” says Ahn. “We really wanted to help recreate those holiday traditions for Amica residents this year.”

Keep sharing tech tips

Even after the holidays have passed, think about some of your own favourite digital activities and offer step-by-step instructions so the senior in your life can enjoy them, too. Whether it’s learning how to order food online, watch a webinar or join a virtual meditation class, these services can make a real difference in people’s lives. And as Amica residents have proven, it truly is never too late for seniors to learn new tech tricks.

“One of our agents taught a 100-year-old Amica resident how to use Facebook,” says Ahn. “She was able to look up her grandkids and add them as friends, and it just demonstrates that with the right support, age isn’t a barrier to use technology. Seniors want to be connected.”

Schedule a tour to learn more about senior living residences where you’re empowered with inspiring choices at Amica.