Technology to Aid Family Caregivers

Robots Can't Replace the Human Touch However!

Andrew Bret Wallis

Health Care seems like the one place in society where the human touch is at the core and yet we are living in a time when people have developed robots to be caregivers. Despite research showing that the people who have received such care do benefit, hiring a robot is not the choice I would make for myself or my loved ones. Let's look at some technology that CAN benefit family caregivers.

That said, there is a place for technology with professional home care services in the modern world and technological devices can ease the burden on family caregivers.

Any consideration of care should first involve the person who needs additional care and factor in their unique preferences. Next, their safety and independence should be openly discussed. And of course cost of each option for care is an important element too—including the costs for the family caregiver who might need to take time away from work to provide care.

When You Can’t Be There

Research shows that 75% of care recipients live within 20 minutes of their family caregivers (AARP/National Alliance for Caregiving “Caregiving in the U.S.”  2015). Despite this proximity, with 6 in 10 family caregivers reporting that they are also working, adding in technology that can take the place of the caregiver can be beneficial. Keep in mind that family caregivers experience a negative impact on their health more than the general population—17% say their health is “fair or poor” compared to 10% of the general population.

Medication management is a challenge for some family caregivers since their loved one may be living with multiple chronic conditions that make taking medicine regularly difficult. When medications are missed or taken improperly, there can be dangerous side effects. However, if pills need to be taken multiple times a day, that can cut into a family caregiver’s work day.

T

he solution for many is a device that alerts the individual when it is time to take their medicine and dispenses only the required dose. In the event that the care recipient misses the alarm, a message is sent to the caregiver so that they can check on their loved one.

Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) are widely known and used. These can be worn and activated in the event of an accident. Even if someone falls down and is unable to get to a phone, they can still push the button to call for help and let a caregiver know what is happening.

A sophisticated in-home monitoring system can be installed to allow loved ones to routinely check up on their parents from afar. Survey after survey shows a large majority of people prefer to “age in place” or remain in their home and familiar environment rather than move to an assisted living community or nursing home. This type of technology is another way to allow independence safely, though certainly questions of privacy must be considered.

iKnow How to Use That!

Forget the conventional thinking that technology is for youth. Seniors are using the latest gadgets as much as younger people. A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that 59% of people age 65 and over use the Internet and 77% had a cell phone—both numbers that had increased since 2012.

In addition, apps downloaded to a smartphone, iPad or similar device can be used for medical updates or entertainment. For example, there are free apps that allow a user to check their heart rate or stress level—with a reminder to laugh or breathe, if needed—and track steps when out for a daily walk. There are also apps with soothing games and activities. All of these allow individuals to engage in their own well-being and may also give a family caregiver a chance to monitor activity.

With smartphones and iPads, a user can adjust type size as needed when vision changes and have access to an infinite amount of reading material. There are classes available in many areas in which college students train seniors how to use these devices, so that they can use email and Skype or FaceTime thereby helping them to stay connected to loved ones.

While these innovations can be life-changing and stress-relieving for all involved, the ideal is one-on-one interaction and care when possible. Maybe the perfect technology is that which augments in-person care, rather than replaces it.

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