Tuesday 10 March 2020

Connecting Kids With Grandparents - Even Long Distance!

 With all the online talk about the Corona Virus, I thought I would be different and blog today about something positive (and it's also a timely consideration if you or your loved ones are homebound due to quarantines or any other reason). Kerry Byrne is a friend and caregiving expert. She is the former Director of Research and Partnerships at Tyze Personal Networks (you've seen my many previous posts about Tyze) and now she is exploring inter-generational connection possibilities including using technology at The Long Distance Grandparent. I asked Kerry to tell us about her work connecting grandparents to children and grandchildren and why it is so important to family and personal wellbeing. 

1)   Kerry, you are a caregiving expert. What brought you to this field? 

I cannot pinpoint exactly when I became so interested in family caregiving. I think it is very likely a mix of my own experience as a young carer for my grandmother, combined with me noticing that no matter what topic I learned about, researched or studied related to aging – the family caregiver was always critical - yet missing from the conversation.

And so, for almost 20 years, I’ve been looking at a range of topics related to family caregiving and still continue to work as a research consultant with organizations focused on family caregivers, aging, health and care.  

2)    Why did you narrow your focus to look at the benefits of inter-generational relationships? 

Improving the lives of family caregivers is something I will always be working towards. But truthfully, I grew frustrated at the pace of change.

When I left my job as Director of Research at Tyze Personal Networks, I made a promise to myself that I would find a way to work on a solution that better honours aging, care and connection.

I’ve always been incredibly inspired by the innovations and solutions that families come up with to care for one another and this has led me to focus on intergenerational connection within families.

Societal challenges related to loneliness, our health and social care systems, workplace challenges, sexism, ageism, climate change – all of these issues benefit from generations being truly connected and working together. But our first experience with another generation usually comes from within our own families. It’s where we tend to learn about intergenerational relationships. 

3) Tell us how your personal life informs your business development and your thinking about aging. 

Aging has always been incredibly relevant in my life – not least because it’s something I hope to be able to do every day for a long time!

Truthfully, for most of my career, I envisioned care and caregiving as the biggest challenge we would face in my lifetime in terms of how to get this right. And even though I still think it’s critically important, everywhere I look these days, I’m drawn to notice things like:  

‘What if our systems of care could truly leverage intergenerational connection to make things better for older people?’

‘What if government could see the powerful possibilities in connecting generations instead of a narrative that often divides?’

‘What if my own family members and friends viewed things through this intergenerational lens I am now using?’

Lately, I cannot stop thinking about how important it is to make the time for grandparents and grandchildren to spend time together. Whether that is in person or virtually.

This now feels more urgent as I get older and lose family members who I didn’t get enough time with or who my children didn’t get to know as well I wanted.

Many families are busy and tired in their own way but there is a ‘limited time only’ imperative to the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

I also try very hard to teach my own children about how important the ‘time’ we have with people is – for example - how special it is to have someone who cares to spend time with you or who cares enough about you to pop a letter in the mail.
It’s these micro-moments of intergenerational connection I hope my children learn to value the most.

How do you manage tech hesitancy in older people? Maybe they are not used to using Ipads or smart phones to skype or facetime family members. What has been your experience on this issue?

Personally, intergenerational connection and relationships have been the motivator for every older person in my life to use a new technology. Intergenerational connection can be a key solution for tech hesitancy.

Many older adults report they are motivated to use technology because of the desire to connect with a child or grandchild.

There are organizations and various initiatives popping up all the time with the express focus of connecting tech skilled younger generations to work with older adults to teach them about technology. An interesting initiative I recently read about is Teeniors in New Mexico. It was created to empower older adults to learn technology while providing paid, meaningful jobs to teens and young adults. You can read more about it in this NPR Article: Youth Teaching Tech To Seniors Fosters Generational Connections.

There are so many options for younger generations to ‘use’ technology to stay connected in a way that isn’t experienced as technology for grandparents. For instance, there are postcard making applications (e.g., TouchNote, ) that younger generations can use to make it easy to send off picture postcards to older adults of grandchildren.

Are you aware of other opportunities for caregivers to use technology in order to enable meaning and purpose through inter-generational relationships in the lives of homebound loved ones?  

Video chat is perhaps one of the best ways to widen the world of a homebound older adult. Many older people are using some version of Skype or FaceTime. But sometimes busy schedules or time differences can make it challenging to coordinate a live chat. As well, if an older adult is having a hard time hearing, or has any cognitive issues, live video chatting can be challenging.

Marco Polo

An app that I recommend to grandparents, and that we are finding really useful to connect with different generations in our family, is called Marco Polo. Everyone from my 83-year old mother in law to my almost 2-year old use it (with my help of course!). 

Once it’s installed and contacts are added, it is easy to use. My mother-in-law experienced a learning curve but with some help to get up and running, it was quick. She is now one of the most avid users in our family. And it’s free.  

I wrote a blog post about Marco Polo explaining what it is, alongside some ideas for how best to use it with grandchildren to have engaging conversations.

The reason I like it if someone is having a hard time hearing or cognitive issues is that there is pretty much a built-in delay to the communication. An older adult can listen and watch the video message, a caregiver or other family member can fill in the pieces about what the video is about, and then the older adult can respond to the video message. This provides a fluidity to the conversation that can be difficult to achieve in live video chats because there is time to consider a response (especially in comparison to live video chatting with children running around or bouncing off the walls in the background!). 

Story Corps

Another app I quite like that I think is a great one for meaningful connection between generations is called StoryCorpsStoryCorps is an American not-for-profit dedicated to preserving and sharing humanity’s stories to build connections between people. One of the main ways they do this is through a free app that can be downloaded on a smartphone or a tablet.

Within the app, there are example questions that you can put together, kind of like a digital facilitator, and the interview can be recorded right within the app. StoryCorps then archives the conversation for you at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington. This way it is saved for generations to come to listen to it in future.

Caregivers could use this app to interview older adults and create a record of their life story. Or it can be used to make in person visits with home bound older adults a little more engaging. Ask a tween, teen or adult grandchild to interview the older adult.

Think of it as a family project and get family members from different generations to interview one another.  For instance, ask grandparents to interview grandchildren and grandchildren to interview grandparents.

As an aside, if you are a podcast listener, the StoryCorps podcast is filled with all kinds of wonderful stories about intergenerational connection.

Good ‘old fashioned’ email

Ask family members to write newsy emails to the older adult sharing the latest and greatest about their lives. Print these out and put them into envelopes for older homebound loved ones to open up. We did this when my Dad was recovering from triple bypass surgery. He loved knowing what was happening with everyone in our family. It also gave us things to talk about which helped me out too.

I also think this provides a meaningful way for younger generations to pitch in and help to expand the world of home bound older adults. They might not be able to contribute to the day to day caring, but they can be called upon to contribute to the social health of an older adult in their family. Writing an email is simple, and yet can go a long way to stay connected with older adults in your family.

How can caregivers and older adults connect with you to find out more about The Long Distance Grandparent? 

Come on over to The Long Distance Grandparent website and take a peek on the blog to see if anything resonates with you.

You can sign up to receive weekly emails that contain ideas & inspirations for staying connected from a distance. The best way to sign up is by downloading one of my free guides because then you get several ideas for connection delivered to your email right away. I have 2 to choose from:

Thanks so much for the opportunity to share my musings and my passion for connecting generations. I hope your audience finds something useful and has a fun or engaging moment with someone they love as a result!

Happy Connecting!

Kerry Byrne, PhD
The Long Distance Grandparent

PS: Another fantastic resource is this one! the National Council on Aging (NCOA)’s Apps and Technologies To Make Communication More Accessible for Older Adults features:
  • How to provide accessible communication for folks with vision, hearing or mobility challenges
  • One of the most comprehensive lists of applications and technologies available to help people navigating each of these challenges stay connected to friends and family
  • Practical tips to stay social and enjoy the fine arts


Tim Nelson said...

Love this post. Incredible true. Beautifully stated. Connectivity is key. Wanted you to know about this. A free caregiver support program was announced this week, funded by the National Institutes of Health, seeking participants. The free program is offered to caregivers living with a person who has received a diagnosis of dementia or mild cognitive impairment. Participating caregivers must be literate in English, have a smartphone and wireless internet connectivity in the home, and be willing to participate in intermittent study activities. Participants will receive the Presence Caregiver Research Pack and mobile app at no cost, a free Amazon Echo upon installation of the system, and each caregiver will earn at least $150 for completing quick-and-easy questionnaires. Watch the 2-minute video to learn about this no-cost support system incorporating today's leading smart home intelligence, devices and mobile app, at https://research.presencefamily.com/ Silicon Valley technology company People Power and researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, developed the system and are standing by to help you.

The Caregivers' Living Room said...

Wow, @TimNelson, this is the best comment ever! Thank you! I will share your project on Facebook and Twitter.