Advances in technology have transformed the way family caregivers, health care providers and long-term care providers approach elder care. During my peak caregiving years when I was looking after multiple elders, I could have used many of the senior care technologies that are available today. Frankly, though, there are a few others that I’d still happily do without. Many of these products are easy to use, help seniors continue to live independently and simplify caregivers’ many responsibilities. The following six apps and devices are things that I’d likely use if I were beginning my caregiving career today. See if any of these tech tools might be worthwhile additions to your care plan.
Technology for Family Caregivers and Seniors
- Medical Alert Systems
One type of technology that I found invaluable at the time—and still do—is the personal emergency response system. I purchased “fall buttons” 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. The buttons generally come in bracelet, necklace pendant and clip-on forms and are easy to use. In the event of an accident or medical emergency, all a senior has to do is push their wearable call button to connect with a dispatcher who can then summon help from the police, the fire department or paramedics. Most systems even allow you to program contact information for family members, neighbors or friends who can also be notified if an emergency occurs. The fall buttons that I used back in the day were fairly simple, but now there are new features available from some providers, including automatic fall detection, activity monitoring, wellness calls, and service coverage both inside and outside the home.
Read: What to Look for (and Avoid) in an Emergency Alert System
- Automatic Pill Dispensers
Most elderly people take an astonishing amount of prescription medications for various health conditions. Taking medications at the wrong time, accidentally doubling doses or forgetting them completely can be dangerous. High-tech pill dispensers can make medication management much easier for seniors and caregivers alike. These devices can be programmed to automatically alert a senior and dispense the proper medications in the correct dosages at the right times. All a caregiver has to do is load the pills and program the regimen into the device. Some smart pill organizers can even communicate with computers and cell phones. Medication dispensers can enable an elder to stay independent longer if memory problems or confusion over prescriptions is the main reason why they need another person’s supervision or assistance.
- Smart Phone Applications for Caregivers
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 (POA) documents. Some are so comprehensive that they come close to making any other planning devices unnecessary. Personally, ease of use and quick access are priorities for me, but other caregivers may like the bells and whistles offered by the most sophisticated apps. Another useful feature is the ability to send updates and information about a loved one directly to other members of their care team. While some basic apps are free, most of the more advanced apps come with a fee attached.
- Sensors and Cameras
As with smart phone apps, choices abound if you are thinking of using sensors and cameras to help you keep track of your elder from your phone or 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 on them.
To some people, especially long-distance caregivers, cameras are an attractive safety precaution as well. Personally, I feel that using cameras to monitor a senior, while useful, also involves a significant invasion of privacy. I’m not referring to the “granny camera” shots taken where suspected elder abuse or theft 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 monitor an 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 preserving our elders’ dignity. If I had a loved one in a situation where I felt cameras were needed to ensure their ongoing safety, I’d seriously look at hiring an in-home caregiver or seek out an assisted living facility or nursing home instead. This is my personal opinion, but then I’m entitled to that, right? It would take a lot of convincing for me to install cameras in my loved one’s home.
- GPS Tracking
Seniors who are living with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia may begin to wander at some point. This is a very dangerous dementia-related behavior that must be carefully managed. Using microchipped shoes and other clothing items to track dementia patients who wander is becoming increasingly popular. The chip can be activated through a paid GPS tracking subscription and reveal a person’s exact location. 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 them 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 tracking doesn’t present a significant privacy issue when balanced with guaranteed assistance in potential emergencies. Elders may even welcome the security. Some medical alert systems offer GPS tracking as a feature in their wearable buttons.
- Online Caregiver Support Groups
I’m leaving this for last because I want the importance of peer support to linger in caregivers’ minds. The internet has brought caregiving support to a whole new level. First of all, there are thousands of helpful articles at our fingertips. Many are authored by elder care experts like medical professionals and geriatric care managers and some are by veteran caregivers. We can access medical information from top hospitals and clinics and obtain in-depth information from disease-specific sites as well. These digital resources are extremely useful, but family caregivers often feel lonely while learning about health conditions, caregiving responsibilities and how to plan for the uncertain future.
We crave comradery and understanding. During my heaviest caregiving years, there were very few people in my life who truly understood the magnitude of what I was trying to cope with. Most just had a surface-level view, and many were more than happy to give me advice about something that they had never personally experienced. However, support is crucial and invaluable from people who have 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. The beauty of online support groups is that there is no need to arrange for respite care or leave the house to go to in-person meetings. Fellow caregivers are available at all times of day to listen to you vent, offer advice, recommend resources and share their own experiences.
While the incredible growth of technology helps support caregivers in countless ways, if I had to choose just one of these tools over any other, I’d choose the ability to be supported by my peers. Caregiver support helps us feel less isolated and provides understanding from those who actually know how we feel. Through these contacts, we gather advice and empathy. We also learn that feeling stressed despite doing our 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.
Caregivers can browse and purchase some of the products mentioned above and a host of others in the Senior Care Products Directory.