Social Distancing: Apps for Seniors (Tech-Savvy or Not): A Guide to Home Care, Communication, Food Delivery and Health Monitoring Tools

Key

  • Easy setup
  • Setup assistance likely needed
  • Best with subscription service
  • Requires credit card information
  • Family member can order remotely
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Medical experts and health officials agree — the best way to keep yourself safe during the global coronavirus pandemic is to practice social distancing, which means staying home as much as possible.

But for many older adults, staying in their homes could mean missing out on important activities, such as visiting with friends, purchasing needed items like food and toiletries or even getting routine medical care.

The good news is that technologies and apps make it possible to keep connected and safe while you hunker down. Use this guide to learn about apps and technologies that are suited for seniors, helping them connect with loved ones and healthcare professionals as well as receive essential goods and services.

Our guide is broken down into four major categories, and for each app, we’ll tell you things like if you can get it on your iPhone or Android device, if it’s easy to set up yourself (or if you’ll need to get help from a loved one) and more. All of the apps we’ve chosen are relatively easy to set up, but the ones that are a bit more complex may require a brief phone call to a loved one who can walk you through setup.

Communication

Though it’s pretty obvious, every senior’s home should have a phone, whether it’s a cellphone, smartphone or landline. While apps and gadgets can help bring a world of services to your door, a regular phone can do many of the same things, such as calling doctors offices, chatting with friends or ordering food delivery.

Here’s a look at our favorite simple communication apps and how to use them:

FaceTime

While it only applies when using an Apple device to contact another person on an Apple device, FaceTime makes it incredibly easy to video chat. Tap on your Phone app, select a contact, and if FaceTime is available, a camera icon will appear. Tap it, and if the other person accepts, you’ll be able to see their face in no time.

Cost: Free
  • Easy setup
  • Available on iPhone

FacebookFacebook Messenger

Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform in the world, and chances are you already have a Facebook account. The site’s Facebook Messenger app is also very popular and can be used to make voice and video calls. Simply open the Facebook Messenger app on your phone (this needs to be downloaded and connected with your Facebook account) or visit Facebook on your computer. Tap the Messenger icon and open an existing message or start a new one. To make a voice call, tap the phone icon, and for a video call, tap the video camera icon.

Cost: Free
  • Easy setup
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Email

Whether on your phone, computer or other connected device, emails are an ideal alternative to instant messaging or chat apps, and your smartphone can be set up easily to let you simply click on the email app icon (usually an envelope) and immediately see and send new messages.

Cost: Free
  • Setup assistance likely needed
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

GrandPad

For seniors without computers or smartphones, GrandPad is a simple tablet computer (like an iPad) that can display family photos, show the weather or allow the user to make phone and video calls. It’s designed to be very simple to use, so for technologically advanced seniors, a traditional tablet probably would provide more freedom, but for those who need only the crucial functions, GrandPad can provide an all-in-one solution.

Cost: Up to $40 per month
  • Setup assistance likely needed
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Best with subscription service

Food Delivery

Depending on the city and state where you live, access to certain retail establishments, like restaurants and bars, is limited or has been cut off entirely. Grocery stores and drug stores, however, generally remain open even when other businesses have been closed. Still, the purpose of sheltering in place or engaging in self-isolation is so that you avoid being in close physical proximity to other people, but with the prevalence of on-demand delivery services, depending on your needs, you can get a whole range of items delivered without physically interacting with another person.

Here’s a look at our favorite food delivery apps:

Grocery store apps: Shipt Instacart

This will depend on what’s available where you live, but many major grocery chains, such as Kroger, offer delivery services within a certain range of a store, and most major stores now allow users to order their groceries online and pick them up without getting out of their cars. Simply open the app or visit the store’s website online, pick what you want, pay for it with your credit card and select delivery or pickup. Alternatives to this that will also depend on where you live are Shipt and Instacart, both of which have easy-to-use apps that let you see what services are available where you live.

Cost: Fees generally start at about $5 in addition to the cost of food
  • Easy setup
  • Requires credit card information
  • Family member can order remotely
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Meal kits: Blue Apron Hello Fresh

For those who want to cook meals but don’t want to deal with prep or shopping for groceries, there are many options for meal-kit delivery. These services are all a little different, but in general, you can use an app or website to get pre-portioned ingredients with detailed instructions delivered to your door. Most of these services allow you to specify dietary restrictions, such as sugar-free or low-sodium, and many offer discounts for ordering delivery monthly or on another regular schedule.

Cost: Fees vary but generally start at about $7 per meal
  • Easy setup
  • Requires credit card information
  • Best with subscription service
  • Family member can order remotely
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Meal delivery: SilverCuisine Freshly

Going a step beyond meal kit delivery is prepared-meal delivery in which users decide what meal they want, the service cooks and packages it, and it’s delivered to your door with detailed reheating instructions. As with meal kit services, users may be able to get discounts for ordering on a regular schedule, and they can specify dietary restrictions that might apply. Many of these services also allow users to order snacks in addition to or instead of full meals.

Cost: Fees vary but generally start at about $6.50 per meal
  • Easy setup
  • Requires credit card information
  • Best with subscription service
  • Family member can order remotely
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Restaurant food delivery:
DoorDash Grubhub Postmates

Many restaurants have been allowed to remain open entirely, while others have seen services restricted to delivery only. In addition to traditional restaurant food delivery, such as pizza or Chinese food, Apps like DoorDash, Grubhub and Postmates rely on freelance drivers who ferry orders from the restaurant to your door, and these apps can tell you easily which restaurants remain open. Each of the services is slightly different, but generally they all allow you to view the available menu and customize all items to your liking. During the outbreak, the apps also allow users to request a no-contact delivery, which can further help you engage in social distancing; with app-based food delivery, all payments are made within the app using a credit card.

Cost: Fees vary but generally start at about $1.99 plus the cost of food
  • Easy setup
  • Requires credit card information
  • Family member can order remotely
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Nursing & Home Care Providers

For older adults with chronic medical or physical conditions, ensuring you still have access to those needed services is crucial as you hunker down to avoid the virus. Depending on the particulars of the care you require, you may already be using an app to help coordinate these services, but for those who aren’t, it could be a good way to help keep track of nursing and home care providers even after the crisis passes.

Here are a few of our favorite care apps:

CaringBridge

CaringBridge lets users connect many caregivers through a single app so that communication, scheduling and essential information are all shared through a single resource. Particularly in a time when other movement is restricted, tracking care services will be crucial to ensure no disruption in needed treatments.

Cost: Free
  • Setup assistance likely needed
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

NextDoor

While not explicitly a care app, NextDoor is a social media app that allows users to communicate with people who live in their neighborhoods. Users can post messages seeking help from their neighbors or offering to pay for various services, including lawn care or home repairs.

Cost: Free 
  • Easy setup
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Drug stores: Walgreens CVS

Major national pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, as well as many other large regional chains, offer apps that let users see medical and personal care items in stock, order medicine refills and even make appointments to see healthcare providers for a range of services that depend on where you live. In some cases, you can even access telehealth services through apps.

Cost: Free, but service costs range widely and may depend on insurance/Medicare
  • Easy setup
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Care.com

Users and family members can use the Care app to find skilled in-home care or pet care, though the app is also used for finding babysitters for children, so availability of care through the app will depend on who is in your area.

Cost: Free
  • Easy setup
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Health Monitoring

The age of wearable technology is upon us, and many seniors have invested in gadgets like Fitbits or other step trackers to help keep tabs on how active they are during the day, but there are several other tools available to help maintain both physical and emotional health.

Here are the best to try as we work through our current crisis:

Instant Heart Rate

Available for both iPhone and Android, Instant Heart Rate lets users better understand their heart health by using their phones’ camera lens to measure and track their heart rate. In-app purchases allow even more features, such as analysis of trends in your heart rate and stress levels.

Cost: Free, but in-app purchases available
  • Easy setup
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Map My Walk

Generally, social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t leave your house, and getting out into nature (if weather permits) is an ideal way to get exercise. Map My Walk allows users to set personal goals and log their walks, and it applies to many activities other than walking, including hiking or swimming, and the app works with many existing activity trackers, like Apple Watch or Samsung Gear.

Cost: Free, but in-app purchases may apply for some features
  • Setup assistance likely needed
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Calm

An app designed to help users learn techniques of meditation, Calm has since expanded to help people sleep better, reduce stress and amp up relaxation. With a Calm subscription, users can get access to the entire range of Calm activities, but free users also get access to daily meditation exercises.

Cost: Free, but in-app purchases apply for most features
  • Best with subscription service
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

SilverSneakersGO

SilverSneakersGO is an exercise app that lets users customize the experience by adjusting comfort levels or choosing between modes that include strength or meditation. Designed by SilverSneakers, the app is a companion to the existing service, which may be partially paid for by Medicare.

Cost: Free, but other charges may apply
  • Setup assistance likely needed
  • Family member can do most setup remotely
  • Available on iPhone
  • Available on Android

Conclusion

Being stuck inside the house doesn’t have to mean being completely cut off from normal life, and in our modern world, there truly is an app for everything. Staying on top of your most immediate needs is crucial, but don’t overlook the long-term effects that isolation can have.