Technological Advances Useful Tools for Caregivers

  • And I thought personal alarms were the ultimate! When my elders were in their own homes, personal alarms like LifeLine and LifeStation were high-tech. And they still are.


    My uncle, my neighbor and my mom all had personal alarms to wear when they were home alone. Mom wore her bracelet and pressed the alarm many times. A few of those times were accidental, and I'd rush out the door at suppertime, plow through a blizzard and burst through Mom's door, only to have her look at me like I was nuts and ask why I was there. I'd explain that I was there because I'd been called by the dispatch station and told she had set off her alarm. I'd then go back home.  

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    Most most of the time, however, she set if off on purpose. And most of the time it was because she was lying helplessly on the floor.


    My uncle also had a personal alarm until a major stroke placed him in a nursing home. And my neighbor Joe wore one, and because he did (I'd have to put it on him every day, but he'd wear it if I did), I was able to quickly summon help for him when he fell and broke his hip. I forever bless that technology, and it's still exceptionally useful.


    However these days there is so much more. ran a recent article titled, "Eldercare Specialists Ask Congress to Support New Technologies. Representatives pressing Congress for support for technology to keep elders in their own homes longer pushed their products."


    QuietCare was one company represented. QuietCare is a monitoring system which is made up of sensors placed around the home. The sensors detect heat and motion and, once a baseline of normal behavior has been determined, potential health problems are picked up by the sensors and relayed to a monitored computer.


    Dakim was also there. Dakim provides a computer-based cognitive training program where elders can exercise their "brain muscle." Elders using this system have said that if they miss a "workout" they know it, and they try to catch up when they get back at it. They enjoy the challenge and enjoy knowing they are keeping their brains working.


    The GrandCare system, also represented, combines a home monitoring system with internet connection to family members that shows the elder messages from their loved ones, pictures and other social information. GrandCare combines this social content with sensors, much like QuietCare uses, to record activity and make sure that any unusual activity is detected and reported.


    Another option, on the social side, that isn't mentioned in the article is one I wrote about in an post titled "A Christmas Gift That Delivers ." Called Presto, the unit is basically a printer. The printer is set up in the elder's home, and through, the family can send photos, emails and have puzzles and news delivered. allows elders to get "mail" many times a day.


    I'm all for this technology. However, in another post I wrote awhile back for, I mentioned one caveat about the new technology. In the post "Technology: How Big A Role Does It Play In Caregiving?" I say, "The main problem I see, other than expense and getting the elder accustomed to some loss of privacy, is that some caregivers may feel the device 'frees' them from in-person visits. They may substitute technology for warm hands, hugs, a caring discussion. They may ease their conscience by thinking, ‘If something is wrong, I'll know it, so I don't have to stop by tonight.'"


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    As a caregiver who, over the span of two decades cared for seven elders, I know the exhaustion and the worry. I also know, now, that I should have paced myself better than I did, and perhaps fewer in-person visits were required, though I know none were unwanted by the elder. I do know that, with this technology, elders will remain independent longer. I saw that first hand, years ago, with their personal alarms. And I know caregivers need a break.


    Yet we need to be careful to find a balance between technical wonders and human contact. Even talking to Mom through a computer screen, with her able to see your face, won't take the place of a flesh and blood visit. It's the difference between email and a phone call, or better yet, a visit. New technological advances are going to help elders and caregivers and I'm excited to see even more come onto the market. However, technology should be an add-on, not an "instead-of." Hugging a computer screen will never replace the warm, human body of a loved one.


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Published On: February 15, 2008