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Technology to help you with caregiving

Posted 06/25/2019 by Fallon Health

By Mary Ann Graham, M.S., RD, LDN

The correct technology can help make caregiving more manageable. But with so much available, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

Consider these caregiving technologies your starting point.

Apps

Apps are programs that can run on your phone, computer, tablet or even your TV to provide an experience or service. There are many apps geared toward caregivers. However, the large volume of them makes it easy to get lost in a sea of downloadable options that all claim to make managing health issues easier.

Here are some free, highly utilized apps with high customer review scores:

  • Alzheimer’s Caregiving Buddy (on Android and iTunes)
    Comes with various caregiver tips, coping strategies, as well as live, free help from the 24–7 Alzheimer's Association Helpline (1-800-272-3900).

  • MediSafe
    Provides personalized reminders to help your loved one manage their medication. Offers visuals of the medications and prompts you when a medication is running low.

  • CareZare
    Provides a forum for loved ones with multiple caregivers to stay on the same page. The features allow for scheduling tasks, tracking caregiving activities in real time and journaling updates on your loved one’s health.

Medical alert systems

“Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

It’s a familiar commercial synonymous with helping older adults in medical danger contact paramedics immediately.

It is still available as a pendant with a button your loved one can press to call for help. But what if your loved one has a fall and physically cannot press the button?

There are advanced medical alert systems that automatically detect when a loved one has a fall, and immediately contact help. The technology is so sophisticated that some systems, such as Philips, have programming to tell the difference between a dangerous fall and a false alarm.

Smart watches such as the Apple Watch include software to help detect falls—and offer a discreet alternative to carrying around a medical alert system.

Detecting a fall automatically means decreased emergency personnel response time. Those saved minutes can prevent a bad injury from becoming worse.

Digital assistants

You may have seen advertisements for state-of-the-art devices that respond to your voice like Amazon’s popular Alexa voice assistant. They are programmed to perform tasks such as dialing phone numbers, verbally providing answers to general questions and playing music (which has shown to have benefits for those with dementia).

Digital assistants are hands-free, which means your loved one can easily perform many tasks without having to make any physical effort, without having to fumble around with a small device.

You will need to preprogram some digital assistants with helpful shortcuts. For example, you can set up a loved one’s calendar. Then, the digital assistant can offer reminders about important events, such as an upcoming doctor’s appointment or a reminder to take medication.

Home monitoring systems

Wireless home monitoring systems provide insight into changes in your loved one’s health, even when you can’t be there. These systems have sensors you can deploy around the house to track a loved one’s healthy habits.

Consider a few spots in the house that can give you valuable information:

  • Bathroom
    Track visits per day. If your loved one usually goes to the bathroom five times a day and suddenly makes 10 or more trips a day, that could be a sign of a urinary tract infection.

  • Kitchen cabinet
    Is your loved one eating regularly? Detect how often the cabinets are being opened to see if your loved one is eating enough and avoid health issues involving lack of nutrition.

  • Bed
    Staying in bed for long stretches at a time could indicate depression, medication side effects, or a condition such as anemia or sleep apnea. That makes it important to know whether your loved one is getting out of bed often enough.

Some monitoring systems include cameras to keep an eye on your loved one, but it’s important to discuss any privacy concerns in advance with your loved one.

Video calling

Being a long-distance caregiver comes with its own set of challenges. Technology is just one way long-distance caregivers can help provide care for a loved one without physically being there all the time.

Video-capable devices are a great way to stay in touch.

Set up SkypeFaceTimeWhatsAppViber or another app for a video chat. Sometimes seeing your loved one may help identify any issues not expressed over the phone. 

GPS

Losing track of a loved one with dementia is a real concern. GPS technology can help accurately identify your loved one’s location in real time.

You can choose from devices that now come in many portable forms—and they won’t get in your loved one’s way, when worn or carried:

  • Smart watches

  • Smartphone apps

  • Bracelets

  • Pendants/necklaces

Automated pillboxes

Sometimes a visual cue is the best way to remember what needs to be done. An automated pillbox is preloaded with medication and releases the appropriate dosage at certain times of the day.

Smart outlets

These outlets are helpful, especially at nighttime when a loved one may need to get up and use the bathroom. Smart outlets can automatically detect when someone enters a room and turn the appropriate lighting on and off.

Questions to consider

You will want to ask a few questions when deciding which technology is right for your caregiving situation:

  • Can I afford this?

  • How comfortable am I using this technology or will I need help understanding how to use it?

  • How comfortable is my loved one using this technology?

  • Will this technology need to be setup by a professional?

  • If this technology hits a bump in the road, how do I troubleshoot the problem?

  • Is my loved one comfortable with any privacy issues (if it applies)?

No matter what road you take, make sure to walk it together with your loved one. Talk about the technology choices that will work for both of you.

Mary Ann Graham, M.S., RD, LDN, is Site Director at Fallon Health's Summit ElderCare location in Webster, Massachusetts.

Which technology tools have you found helpful with caregiving? How have they made a difference for you or for the person you provide care for? What do you recommend other caregivers try?

Share your experience in the comments section below.

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