How to Set Up FaceTime for an Elderly Family Member

Extraordinary times would be an understatement. 

There is a a lot to lose sleep over right now. Things are pretty bleak. 

What makes it all harder is that the government has basically forbidden us from seeing each other. 

For those who are comfortable with smartphones, FaceTime, Zoom and WhatsApp video calls have become an indispensable part of staying in touch. For the converted, a regular phone call just doesn’t compare to a video call.

However, the elderly are (generally speaking) left out when it comes to video chats. That’s because most of them never jumped on the smart device bandwagon. 

As a result, they are more isolated than the rest of us. 

Especially here in Ontario, where residents of long-term care facilities are not even allowed to leave their rooms due to concerns about Covid-19 🙁

I recently set up an iPad for my grandfather-in-law, who is not particularly tech savvy. This article documents those steps in the hope that it will help others get connected.  

I suppose you could call this the definitive 7-step guide to getting your elderly family members set up for video calls. 

Step 1: Choosing a device

Before settling on hardware, the first question was operating system. I settled on iOS, since it is widely considered to be the easiest to use.

With that question settled, my first instinct was an iPad, because everything on a tablet is bigger and easier to see/find. The only drawback is that an iPad weighs a fair bit more than an iPhone — an iPad weighs up to 1.5 pounds vs about one third of that for an iPhone. So if weight is a real concern, then consider an iPad Mini or an iPhone (Plus models recommended).

When it comes to which model of iPad, I figured that top-of-the-line specs were hardly necessary for a device that will be used for FaceTime and maybe some basic games. So I went for the iPad 4, which is a very affordable option (available used from $239). The iPad Air and iPad 5 are other models that are a good value for this use case. 

That being said, you could probably get by on devices as old as the iPad 2, so if you have one that is no longer in use at home, that could be a great option. 

If you don’t have a suitable spare, here in Canada you can find affordable used iPads on Orchard. For our friends in the U.S. and around the world, we’d recommend checking out Amazon or Ebay.

Note: these recommendations assume that there is wifi available. If not, you’ll have to buy a device with cellular connectivity and get it set up with a basic data-only plan. 


Step 2: Activate the device

You want the device to be ‘plug and play’ once it is delivered to your elderly family member, so getting past the initial set up screens is critical. 

Style note: hereafter I will refer to the generic ‘elderly family member’ as “Grandpa”. Stay with me!

If you’re going to be sharing an old iPad of your own, definitely start by wiping it (instructions here) so there isn’t any confusion down the line about Apple IDs and whatnot. Trust us: that can be very hard to troubleshoot over the phone! 

Passcode is optional: I went with ‘9999’ (this can always be changed or removed in the Settings).

When you reach the Apps & Data screen, select Set Up as New iPad.

I decided to set Grandpa up with his very own Apple ID linked to his email address. You may need to create a dedicated email address if Grandpa doesn’t have one. 

Be sure to email the password and answers to verification questions to Grandpa’s email address, and write them down as well! 


Step 3: Declutter the home screen

Once you’ve completed activation you’ll see a screen that looks like this. 

Default Home Screen

That’s a lot of clutter. The most important icons are not in the right place. 

So I dragged and dropped all of the apps I felt like wouldn’t ever get used into one giant folder and dropped it onto the second page (video on moving apps here). Then we rearranged the icons at the bottom of the screen as well. Note how far apart FaceTime and Messages are — that was intentional, as those icons are quite similar. 

Home screen set up for FaceTime

Step 4: Add Contacts

This one is pretty self explanatory: open up the contacts app and add family and close friends. 


Step 5: Test call all contacts

The last thing you want is for Grandpa to have to deal with the confusion of calling the wrong number, and then having to update someone’s contact information. 

So give everyone a test cal for a quick hello. This also gives everyone the opportunity to add Grandpa to their contact list, so they’ll know who’s calling!


Step 6: Increase font size

There’s a lot of room on the iPad screen for larger fonts, so why not?

To make this adjustment, go to Settings > Display and Brightness > Text Size then use the slider to adjust the font size. I increased the font by two ‘notches’. Note: this setting only changes the size of text once you open an app. Unfortunately there is no way to update the text size on the home screen.

Increase font size iOS


And that’s it: the iPad is ready for hand off! Just make sure to give it a thorough clean with Clorox wipes or similar.

Step 7: Connect the iPad to the internet

The final step is connecting to wifi, but that can only be done on-site. If you’re not able to do this in-person, perhaps Grandpa’s caregiver could assist? Obviously, if there is no wifi at Grandpa’s home and you bought a cellular-enabled device, you can set up a cellular device ahead of time and just hand it off! 

Note, the best way to start a FaceTime call is through the Contacts app. Open the contacts app, tap the person’s name, then hit the FaceTime button below their number. 

Making FaceTime Call From Contacts

Here’s to a lot of video calls over the next few months, and being able to resume face-to-face visits as soon as possible!

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  • Keith Hughes 11 May, 2020   Reply →

    Ive got a iphone 6 and had it for 5-6 yrs and wouldn’t part with it for the world it’s now my back up phone but i use it quite often when something happens or goes down on the new like i said before I wouldn’t part with it for the world useing it to type this hope it lasts another 5-6 yrs

    • Dylan @ Orchard 12 May, 2020   Reply →

      That’s great, Keith! The iPhone 6 is definitely a reliable smartphone 🙂 happy to hear it’s served you well! Thanks for your comment.

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