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Assistive Technology Devices for the Elderly

An Introduction

 

The bottom line:

  • As more and more seniors choose to age in place, technology could be a helpful tool to keep them safe and healthy.
  • There is a huge variety of technology out there, so it’s worth pinpointing specific needs to ensure they’re being met by the technology selected.
  • Certain barriers may be preventing seniors from adopting or getting the most out of their home tech.

 

Assistive technology, sometimes called ‘technology-enabled care’, ‘telecare’ or ‘telehealth’, has grown in popularity over the last decade, providing a range of solutions to help people stay safe and connected in their homes. As technology advances at breakneck speed, solutions and options for this, that and the other are cropping up, but there’s a disconnect between the world of technology and our ageing population in Ireland.

According to a Tilda survey on internet access and use among adults aged 50 and over in Ireland, the prevalence of home internet access decreases as age increases. If we assume this trend is also the case for other technology, this means that though technology may be available to help older adults, they may well not be taking full advantage of its benefits.

As such, in this article we’re going to explore the problems solved by assistive technology devices for the elderly, some of the options available and the steps that can be taken to help older users adapt to new technologies.

What is Assistive Technology for Seniors?

The basics: what is assistive technology? Essential features of technology aimed at elderly users include ease of use, security, safety, reliability, and independence – all factors that make seniors more likely to adapt to the technology. But why is it so important that seniors keep up with the times and bring this new technology into their homes?

As more and more Irish seniors choose to live in their own homes as they age, steps need to be taken to help them keep as safe as possible. However, as numbers of seniors grow, we face a scarcity of carers and caregivers – what has even been dubbed the “Elder Care Crisis” – which means that alternatives need to be found to ensure these seniors opting to age in place can do so safely – for their own peace of mind and that of their loved ones!As such, assistive technology covers an entire range of options that counteract some of the common effects of ageing (reduced memory and balance, for example) and enable seniors to age in place safely and independently. But it’s not all about independence. In fact, many new technologies rely on outside support from nearby friends and/or family members, which could help keep seniors stimulated and maintain their relationships more easily, keeping them connected to the outside world and helping combat loneliness – a proven contributor to nursing home admissions and shown to be harmful to the wellbeing of older adults.

Just as mobility aids help people with physical impairments remain active, assistive technology is there to provide aid in other areas – whether cognitive or sensory – enabling users to keep living independently for longer in safety. So what does it actually do?

What can Assistive Technology do?

Depending on the assistive technology (or technologies!) chosen, it can help with a range of problems or difficulties an older person may face. Here are some examples of the problems it could help tackle:

  • Safety: from an easily accessible alarm triggered as a result of a fall to more high-tech pressure pads placed in strategic locations, a range of safety devices are available to make sure someone is alerted if anything should happen. Other devices are also available to maintain house security, including window and door alarms and smart doorbells (with built-in camera and voice communications).
  • Mobility: from help navigating daily household tasks to monitors that gauge balance and send out an alert before it’s too late, several mobility devices are available to ensure elders are cared for as they move about in their homes. This technology even stretches to GPS devices that monitor seniors while they’re out and about, and even video surveillance, which allows carers and family members to monitor seniors’ home environments.
  • Cognitive aids: from magnifying book contents to speaking electronic devices, and accessible mobile phones to games and exercises to maintain cognitive health, options are out there to make things easier, if only you know where to look!
  • Reminders: though age-related memory loss may be common, it doesn’t have to affect the lives of those suffering from it with options of technology that allow users to set reminders for appointments or to take medications.
  • Peace of mind for family members or carers: from tracking movements (or lack of them) to providing ways of staying in touch, friends and family can rest easy knowing their loved one is safe in their own home and could contact them in an emergency.

Which technology is right for me or my loved one?

Now that we’ve covered the basics of what assistive technology can do and its overall benefits, here are 7 questions to ask when choosing assistive technology for your loved one:

  1. Which problems are they facing, and which technology best meets their needs?
  2. Does the person who will be using it understand what it’s for, and are they happy and confident to work it into their lives?
  3. Is the person able to use the device, for example, does it require them to have fine finger movement, good eyesight or hearing?
  4. Does the product have any limitations you both need to be aware of – for example, does it cover the geographical distance you need it to?
  5. Does the user need to remember to use or carry the device with them for it to be useful? Are they willing to do so, and is it reasonable to think they will?
  6. Do they need to be taught how to use it? Who will provide them with initial and ongoing support if they have any questions?
  7. How much will it cost, and are any grants available to help out?

Overcoming resistance to technology

Though internet and technology use among seniors is increasing, over half of Irish people aged between 65 and 74 have never used the internet, locking older people out of a huge range of benefits. So how do we increase this number and get seniors online and comfortable using technology?

By social leveraging – taking the time to help and encourage them to do so without pressuring them into adopting practices they’re not comfortable with. By walking them through it, answering their questions and letting them try it out for themselves. By having open, honest conversations about their needs and listening to what they are and aren’t comfortable using- especially if devices encroach on their privacy and independence.

The best place to start? A needs analysis, whether carried out by family or a trained Occupational Therapist, to determine the problem areas and what could be implemented to help seniors navigate this new phase of their lives.

Assistive technology could be the key to greater peace of mind for both users and their family members as they age in place, so if you want to find out more, get in touch with us to arrange your free consultation by clicking here.

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