caregiving in the digital age: making sense of technology for in-home care

In Uncategorized by Cassandra WolffLeave a Comment

As the digital age marches on, technology is contouring the landscape of how home healthcare is delivered and experienced. The many changes associated with disease and disability are confronting humanity with unique challenges… Challenges that test our resolve to persevere amidst the incessant relentlessness of care and its demands.

I believe that technology has the power to reduce stress, increase health and wellness, bolster coherence of care systems and reunify families that face insurmountable care burdens.

In 2011 one of my clients with paralysis transformed his reading experience with Amazon’s “Kindle.” This electronic tablet allowed him to download and read unlimited books at the touch of a button. Before Kindle, I sat near him to assist in turning the page. Of all the medical devices that allowed him to get out of bed each day, the Kindle was a unique device that gave him a sense of autonomy and sovereignty.

Technological innovation has become central to quality of life. In some cases, it is what makes life possible. From mechanical ventilation for high quadriplegics to medical alert systems for the elderly, technology is advancing in unprecedented ways that intervene to improve, extend and save lives.

According to a survey AARP conducted in 2014, 87 percent of adults over the age of 65 want to age in place. So, what kinds of technologies should we be aware of that can assist in our elder’s desire to age in comfortable, familiar surroundings?

  1. Artificial intelligence. AI is now finding ways to reduce toxic loneliness. People who live in affordable-housing complexes in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have been given an Amazon smart speaker as part of the AARP Foundation’s Social Connectedness Voice-Activated Technology program. When our loved ones experience limited contact with the outside world it can prove detrimental to their mental health. With this technology, people can exercise their capacity to interact with the world outside of their own.
  2. Medical alert systems. The ability to untether ourselves from loved ones who need constant care is paradigm-shifting. This means that we can find more time to care for the caregiver! Medical alert systems can detect falls, call for help and provide GPS location outside the home. This guide from consumers advocate is the only resource you need for finding the device that suits all of your needs.
  3. Telemedicine. According to Community Impact News, telemedicine is “The provision of healthcare services to a patient by a doctor in a remote location using technology.” The cost-effectiveness of remote doctor visits has the potential to reduce overall healthcare costs in our country. Starting in 2020, certain Medicare Advantage plans will offer coverage for Telehealth services. To learn more about how to access telemedicine, visit the Center for Connected Health Policy.
  4. Social Robots. According to Wikipedia, a social robot is “An autonomous robot that interacts and communicates with humans or other autonomous physical agents by following social behaviors and rules attached to its role.” This technology is doubtless the epitome of the future of home healthcare and companionship.  Robots can play games, act as a personal assistant and provide home automation and security. To learn more about the latest innovations in social robots, check out this article from Scientific American.
  5. And of course, the Kindle! Ebooks are revolutionizing the way we travel with books. This digital reading device is helping disabled students carry their textbooks to school. It is helping certain quadriplegics to turn the page. The many benefits of storing your books all in one place are game-changing.
We are in an era where caregivers are being tested across the human spectrum of capability. They give, care, do, provide, love, entertain- they experience multi-roled positions and continue to endure despite chronic burn-out and fatigue.

The burgeoning need for care does not discriminate among age, race, creed or color. We will all become caregivers at some point in our lives, whether for a newborn baby, our aging parents or anyone in between. Homecare technology is a crowning achievement of an era where the disparity between available caregivers and people in need of care grows. With the help of digital gadgets, we can make our lives more manageable, enjoyable and in some cases, possible.

We can embrace these innovations to improve, save and extend lives. Welcome to the future!

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