As home caregivers, we understand the importance of ‘aging in place.’ Our approach to home care is people centric. We look at a client’s needs and our talented caregivers provide services necessary to keep them happy and healthy. As the demand to stay home increases, so will the resources available. While we would like to think that it is caregivers like us that is making staying home more attractive, there is another important development that can be added to the home care mix: technology.
How Technology Helps
With current technologies, we can envision a walk into our home, the door unlocks automatically. As you step in, the path is lit. The hearing aid you’re wearing is perfectly calibrated for your home environment. The air conditioner turns on to cool the house down for the night. As you prepare for bed, you step on a scale that logs your weight. Family members receive a notification that shows your heart rate and steps throughout the day and your weight charted out over time. You brush your teeth, the security system arms and the lights dim. It’s time for bed.
Sensors and automated tools that sound high tech and complicated are becoming simple and affordable. Hearing aids, weight scales, step counters, heart monitors, garage doors, house locks, lights, fire alarms, security systems and air conditioning systems can all be networked and synced with an iPhone. Sure, flipping a switch isn’t very hard, but it can be in the dark. When you have a phone, you can turn on every light in the house without worry. To the able bodied, this technology might sound like overkill, but to those who might have difficulty getting out of bed, moving around in the dark and walking down steps, these technologies are the golden ticket to staying home, independently.
A Supplement, Not a Replacement
While technology can be exciting, especially for those who enjoy tech, it is only a supplement, not a replacement for help from people. Regardless of our advances, we still need the human touch. We need visitors, friends, family, caregivers and doctors. Community resources can help you find groups of people so that you stay connected, not just to the internet, but to the world around you. Otherwise, how could you show off your new gadgets?
As we age, we face different challenges. The good news is that many of these challenges can be made easier. Everyday activities like walking and potential risks like falling can be addressed with Assistive Technologies (AT). AT is a term that refers to all assistive devices, independent living aids and adaptive equipment that allow seniors to continue to live independently. More than 15 million Americans with disabilities use some type of AT.
What is an example of AT?
Assistive technology can be as simple as a hearing aid or cane, or as sophisticated as a voice-activated computer system or mechanical hoist to lift and turn someone in bed. Canes, magnifiers and pill organizers would be considered low-tech, but this doesn’t mean it’s bad. In many cases a low-tech option is the best option. High-tech assistive devices include computer applications, sensors and smart phone systems which are becoming easier to use and more common.
AT is a rapidly growing area and is used by people with disabilities and older adults who want to stay in their communities and remain independent as long as possible. In a 2003 AARP survey of persons over 50, one-third of people reported using AT in their daily activities. The top three most popular AT devices were:
- Walker, cane or crutches
- Aids for bathing or toileting
- Wheelchair or scooter
What kind of AT is right for your loved one?
Navigating a wide range of products and devices can be confusing. To determine which products might be right for your loved one, all you need to do is focus on the actual tasks your loved one wants or needs to do when choosing devices. While this might seem obvious, it’s easy to get drawn into buying a product that looks good but doesn’t really address your loved one’s needs.
Pick the simplest product available to meet the need. Simpler devices are often easier to use, less expensive, and easier to repair and maintain than more complex devices. For example, if someone gets confused about which pills to take at which times, a weekly pill organizer that can be filled by a caregiver can help solve the problem. An automated pill dispenser with alarms to remind the person to take medications would be more complicated than necessary and would certainly be more expensive than the simple pill organizer.
Before clicking the purchase button or swiping your card, consult other people. Ask experts that provide care to your loved one, like rehabilitation specialists or physical and occupational therapists, about which type of technology might be best. If you have access, ask other people with disabilities what products they have found to be helpful. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you can use the device on a trial basis to see if it is truly going to meet your loved one’s needs.
Ultimately, your loved one’s opinion about a certain piece of AT is the most important. The device needs to be comfortable, attractive, and simple to use.
You Might be Surprised at How Much Seniors Use the Internet
A few years ago, seniors using Facebook made waves throughout the media. A quote summarized the trend, “For those of us that can’t get out, we can bring the world in.” Fast forward a couple years and now we see just about every senior community and care initiative offering help with the internet.
Staying Healthy by Staying Connected
It’s estimated that as many as 10 million older Americans suffer from depression, often brought on by feelings of loneliness and isolation. However, new research – a project that followed the lives of thousands of retired older Americans for six years – found that Internet use among the elderly can reduce the chances of depression by more than 30 percent.
A sociologist from Michigan State, Dr. Shelia Cotten, is leading the charge. With information and communication technology training and use she studied the effects on seniors:
“When asked about perceived world size, the ICT group showed a significant increase, providing comments saying they “no longer feel left behind,” and “the world seems bigger.”
The quotes from an Atlantic article are great:
“We feel like we’ve joined the human race,”
“(My granddaughter) is a junior in college and I get to see all the things she’s doing — all the sorority things and such. It makes me feel about 80 years younger,” she says. “And when I see what she says about her boyfriend and what’s she’s going to do, I can get on the telephone and say, ‘Don’t you do that!'”
According to Pew, 6 in 10 seniors now go online:
46% of online seniors (representing 27% of the total older adult population) use social networking sites such as Facebook, and these social network adopters have more persistent social connections with the people they care about.
As an extension of this use, internet startups are attempting to fill senior needs. The Today Show and Oprah have caught on and have helped to provide a podium for them to spread the word. One such startup is LotsaHelpingHands. “When people rally to help someone in their family or Community, LotsaHelpingHands makes it easy for each person to know what to do and when.” Other services like Tapestry make connecting with family through services like Facebook easier.
Lotsahelpinghands hopes that technology will give seniors the ability to easily share vital health information and connect with each other. Through the platform, seniors can foster meaningful and active roles for friends, family, and neighbors who are a critical part of the care equation. If you would like help figuring out your loved one’s care equation, we would be glad to help in any way we can.