How Technology Can Bridge the Miles Between Family

End-of-life and palliative care providers are often called upon to help ease the burden of care for faraway family members. But it’s important to know about new technology that can bridge the gap and allow adult children, grandchildren, and siblings to be involved and in-the-loop. Communication devices, monitors, and even senior-oriented GPS tracking can all ease worries and deepen family connections regardless of distance.

A Growing Concern
With the aging population steadily increasing, keeping up with seniors’ health care needs is an issue many families face now more than ever. Some studies show that over the course of the next decade, the population of people aged 60 and older will grow 56 percent faster than the rest of the population. Complicating things, most seniors want to live in their homes as long as possible, this isn’t easy if they live far away from loved ones. The good news is technology offers great ways to help seniors age in place.

Health Monitoring
Many technological products and services are available to track senior’s health, and some offer communication and socializing options.

  • Interactive websites. Several websites offer both wellness tracking and communication. Some sites also allow the family to socialize and keep up with their aging loved ones in ways such as sharing photos, emailing, scheduling appointments, and sharing videos.
  • Wireless sensors. According to some experts, wireless sensor devices allow the family to check on seniors securely via the web at any time day or night. The sensors attach to various objects in the home and note disruptions in the wearer’s routine, such as missed medications or if the television isn’t turned on at the usual time. If there is trouble, they automatically send alerts if via text, phone or email.
  • Medication trackers. Medication management systems work with any internet-capable device and remind users to take medications. They also track inventory, dispense medications, and send an alert if a medication wasn’t taken or if refills are needed.
  • GPS devices. Others options incorporate GPS. Seniors wear tracking devices that monitor activity that can alert care providers or the family if he or she wanders outside of normal boundaries. Some devices are small gadgets that can be worn on clothing or attached to a backpack or purse. The device allows seniors to press a button connecting them with trained personnel who evaluate situations, or the senior has the option of notifying emergency services directly.

Classes and Learning
If the patient is interested in classes to get comfortable with technology, or just wants to socialize, there are plenty of options. Some systems allow seniors to become familiar with Skype, FaceTime, Facebook, and other social media and communication services and sites. Participating in the program gives users unlimited technical support via telephone or the internet as well as their own email and Skype accounts.

Help with pets
Sometimes an aging pet owner may need help with care. Pets provide a tremendous amount of companionship, but there may be days when walking the dog or tending to the cat is too much for someone with mobility issues. Consider suggesting services such as dog walkers or pet sitters online. Some cities even offer volunteer-based pet care services. Check with local agencies to investigate options.

Assistance from a distance
Technology offers numerous long-distance care options including a variety of software and devices to communicate and monitor health. Classes to boost a senior’s technological comfort level can give them a sense of control and new skills to enjoy. By taking advantage of technology to bridge the miles, families can stay connected and seniors have a better chance at filling their wishes to age in place.

Submitted to AAHPM by Marie Villeza from Elder Impact.

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