By Peter Tamburro, Boomerang staff
Martin and his mother embarked on another typical day today. Martin woke her up with some soft music and talked to her about her plans for the day while she bathed and got dressed. While she had her coffee and breakfast, he went over her diary from the day before: her blood sugar is a little high, but her blood pressure is perfect - clearly her new medicine is working. As her home care aide was finishing up the morning chores, Martin went over the day's itinerary with the transportation provider. Before he left, his mother once again mentioned how thankful she was that Martin was there for her.
What is unique about Martin's situation? His mother lives in Ohio, but Martin lives in Georgia.
Increasingly, families are turning to technology to help provide care for a loved one. Advances in technology can make caregiving from a distance a reality and also alleviate some of the financial and emotional burdens on family caregivers, especially when they live far away. Assistive technology for the home is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country and helps individuals remain in their own homes, independently, for as long as possible. Caregiving technology allows families to remain connected and support each other, even when they are hundreds of miles apart.
Caregiving technology is evolving to help caregivers save time, overcome logistical barriers and reduce stress. Likewise, the connections that are maintained help the care recipient feel safer, and gives the caregiver peace of mind. Some examples of caregiving technology include:
- Software that helps families coordinate schedules and care efforts;
- Online personal health record that tracks a loved one's care history, symptoms, medications, tests, etc. and allows authorized caregivers to review;
- Medication support systems that remind an individual about her medicine schedule and dispenses pills as needed;
- Medical testing equipment that automatically sends information like blood sugar or blood pressure readings to a doctor or care manager;
- Video phone system with webcam that allows caregivers to check in and see the loved one;
- Interactive, fun and low-impact video fitness games that give individuals physical and mental activities to choose from; and
- Online communities and social media tools that allow caregivers to seek help from other caregivers or caregiving experts or coordinate care efforts among those willing to assist.
Technology also can help prevent falls or reduce the risk of serious injury resulting from a fall, which is good because 40 percent of all nursing home admissions are a result of falls. Some solutions include:
- Lighted canes that light dark paths;
- Grab bars that provide support while showering, going to the bathroom and transferring from a wheelchair to a bed;
- Sensors around the home and on equipment like walkers and canes that track movement and sound an alarm or notify someone when a user falls; and
- Personal emergency response systems that allow someone to push a call button for help.
Another big area where technology can help caregivers is in dealing with hearing loss. Approximately one-third to one-half of older adults experience hearing loss. Assistive listening devices work in conjunction with hearing aids, helping to enhance hearing in noisy surroundings or facilitate person-to-person conversations.
With so much to choose from, it's good to look at caregiving technology with a plan. First, know what you need or want the technology to do for you - what problem is it meant to solve? Until everyone is comfortable with the gadgets and gizmos, pick simple devices that are typically less expensive and easier to use and maintain. Talk to your medical professionals and rehabilitation specialists about technologies other patients have had success with. Ask the provider if a trial period or short-term rental is possible to see if the solution meets your needs before you buy. Then, stick with it and give the technology a chance to make things easier. Continually evaluate the solution to make sure it continues meeting your needs.
We use technology to make our lives easier and maintain connections with those around us; why can't it also help us provide the care our loved ones need to remain independent?
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