During my peak of providing care for multiple elders, I could have used many of the technology advances available today—though, frankly, there are others that I'd still happily do without.
One type of technology that I found invaluable at the time – and still do – is the personal alarm. I subscribed to a personal alarm service for my neighbor, my uncle and my mother. I can't emphasize enough how much these alarms contributed to peace of mind for my elders and for me, their caregiver. These alarms generally come in bracelet, necklace and clip-on forms, and are easy to use in an emergency. They give an elder some sense of security, without being too intrusive.
However, technology has moved forward at warp speed, now offering options that we couldn't even imagine just a few years ago. Below are five options that I'd likely use if I were beginning my caregiving career today:
Pill dispensers: Most elderly people take a confusing array of medications for various ailments. Taking medications at the wrong time, or forgetting them completely, can have serious consequences. A quick search on the Internet will bring up pill dispensers with timers, alarms, or that can communicate with computers and cell phones. These dispensers can enable an elder to stay independent longer, if memory or confusion over prescriptions is the main reason for their need for supervision.
Smart phone apps: As a writer and blogger on elder care and caregiver support, I am often asked to try out new apps for caregivers. Some are quite basic with medication reminders and calendars for medical appointments. Others also include electronic folders for detailed medical information, lists of physicians and copies of Power Of Attorney papers. Some are so comprehensive that they come close to taking over the need to have any other planning device. Personally, ease of use and quick access are priorities for me, but other caregivers may like the bells and whistles offered by the most all-encompassing apps. While some basic apps are free, most of the advanced apps come with a fee attached.
Sensors and cameras: As with smart phone apps, choices abound if you are thinking of home sensors and cameras to help you keep track of your elder from your computer. I can possibly see myself using the sensors. That way, if there is no movement in an area where my loved one would usually have been active during some period of the day or night, my computer would alert me, and I could check out the situation.
To some people, cameras are an attractive safety precaution, as well. To me, the use of cameras to track an elder, while useful, also risks a significant invasion of privacy. I'm not referring to the "granny cam" shots taken where suspected abuse is a factor. If abuse or neglect is an issue, the need to reveal it would override the possible temporary loss of dignity.
However, under most circumstances, these cameras are installed to keep track of the elder's movements. I fully understand the allure of this choice. However, I feel that if I were the elder involved, the complete invasion of my privacy that cameras represent would be over the line. I strongly believe in dignity for our elders. If I had a loved one in a situation where I felt cameras were needed to ensure safety, I'd seriously look at hiring an in-home caregiver, or seek out an assisted living facility or nursing home. This is my personal opinion, but then I'm entitled to that, right? It would take a lot of convincing for me to use tracking cameras in my elder's home.
GPS tracking: In eldercare, tracking Alzheimer's wanderers with shoes and other items of clothing that have a microchip and built-in GPS system is becoming increasingly popular. The chip can be activated through a paid GPS tracking subscription. I think that GPS tracking could also be useful for vulnerable elders without dementia. That way, if a person is expected to be home at a certain time and doesn't arrive, there would be a way to locate him or her to make sure that a fall or other emergency hadn't taken place. Convincing an elder of this need may be a challenge, but GPS doesn't present a significant privacy issue when balanced with assured assistance in potential emergencies. Some elders may even welcome the security.
Support Forums: I'm leaving this for last because I want to have the importance of peer support linger in caregivers' minds.The Internet has brought caregiving support to a whole new level. First of all, there are thousands of helpful articles written by experts on care. Many are by people in the medical fields and some are by veteran caregivers. We can access medical information from top clinics and other user friendly medical sites. We can obtain in-depth information from disease specific sites as well.
Still, there is more. During my heaviest caregiving years, there were very few people who understood the magnitude of what I was trying to cope with. Most just had a surface view, and many were more than happy to give me advice about something completely outside of their personal experience. However, support is most welcome and valuable from people who've been in our shoes. I'd have given a lot to have had a community such as the support groups on AgingCare.com to turn to in my worst times of frustration and sorrow.
While the incredible growth of technology helps support caregivers in countless ways, if I had to choose just one application over any other, I'd choose the ability to be supported by peers.
Peer support breaks our isolation and offers understanding from those who know how we feel. Through these contacts, we gather advice and empathy. We also learn that doing our imperfect best is the norm. Thanks to the Internet and other new technology, this kind of support is now readily available. Along with many other caregivers, I'm grateful for this much-needed development.