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Conquering Distance with Loved Ones

By Tawny Maya McCray- Staying in touch with family and friends is so important, but as we age, changing circumstances can affect how or how often we can. With so much technology available these days, it’s easier than ever for us to feel close to our loved ones no matter where they live, all from the comfort and safety of our own home.

By embracing technology, older adults have access to more frequent communication with loved ones, reconnecting with others and keeping up with community developments.

Seniors can become disconnected or isolated due to a number of reasons — distance, mobility challenges, health, finances, etc. But baby boomers and other older generations are doing more and more these days to not let these circumstances get in the way of family.

Older adults have been the fastest-growing age group online for some time, and the Pew Research Center Internet and American Life project says that more than half of them are using the internet. Now families are free to come up with their own structures for staying in touch.

Sherry Engberg, 75, of Julian, California, says technology is the main way she and her husband, Bob, connect with their two kids. Their daughter, Catherine, lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Tom, and kids, 11-year-old Elsa and 8-year-old Cedric.

Their son, Brock, lives in San Diego. “Technology really helps us,” Engberg says. “When Bob and I were first married (over 50 years ago) and living away from my parents, we couldn’t afford to phone ‘long distance’ unless it was an emergency. So, I wrote my parents letters when I had time, but we were pretty out of touch.” With texts, email, Facebook and sometimes Apple FaceTime, an iPhone video chat app, they can talk easier, more frequently and even see one another without being together.

It’s hard to beat spending time in person, and technology can create more opportunities to travel. Sherry and Bob also visit their kids regularly, seeing Brock every month or two and Catherine three or four times a year. The Engbergs are avid campers who set out on the road several times a year in their camper van, visiting Catherine and her family when their road trip takes them through the Bay Area.

Other times, Engberg says, she’ll find a cheap flight and spend a few days with them. “Some visits have been what we call ‘Grandma Camp,'” Engberg said. “The kids might have a few days of school vacation while Cath and Tom have to work, so I hang out and do stuff with the kids. It’s such fun.” Whether a planned trip or spur-of-the-moment adventure is wanted, keeping an eye on good travel deals can ensure seniors get quality in-person time.

Websites like Expedia.com and Skyscanner.com offer cheap flights, and they can even set up alerts so they are notified when one in or below their price range shows up.

For families who are on the go or international, mobile apps are a great way to keep in touch. Kathy Meagher of San Diego regularly communicates with her two daughters, Anne, who lives in Vancouver, Washington, and Sarah, who lives in London, through texts, Facebook and WhatsApp, a free smartphone messaging app owned by Facebook. WhatsApp works just like regular texting and allows users to make free international calls, as well. It’s a great way to keep up with them, their spouses and her five grandkids, ages 2 to 14.

Her daughters send pictures and videos of her grandkids, like a recent video of Sarah’s eldest son, Sam, playing violin at a school assembly in London, so she can feel a part of their experiences and accomplishments. Both of her daughters have lived away from San Diego since the late 1990s, when the only real option of staying in touch was an old-fashioned phone call. “Technology has helped, because with calling you just leave a message and generally don’t hear back,” she says. With new devices and applications, not even an ocean, a time difference or international phone charges get in the way of family.

The variety of technology means that seniors and families get to choose what they’re comfortable using and what works best for them, bridging the gap to make sure all of life’s precious moments are experienced by all.

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