Technology: How Big A Role Does It Play In Caregiving?

  • Cameras that monitor an elder’s movements, computerized sensors that “learn” movement and report anything amiss, personal alarms – there are many new advances in technology that are becoming useful for eldercare.

    There is some invasion of privacy for the elder when any of these are used. My personal opinion is that cameras would feel more invasive than sensors placed around the home. And personal alarms, which have been around for many years, are likely the least invasive, as the person wearing the alarm controls the device.

    That, of course, is also the weakness. If a person is unconscious, or, as I found often happened with my elderly neighbor, the person forgets (or chooses not) to wear the alarm, it is useless. Still, the alarms worked when we needed them to, and I was grateful, as a caregiver, to have them.

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    There are advantages to all types of monitoring, and individuals need to research to find what seems best for them and their elders. A few years ago, it was “personal alarm or not?” Now, the increasing choices keep compounding the need for caregivers to examine all avenues and discuss pros and cons of different designs and methods.

    I’m all for this. Many elders don’t need someone with them 24/7.

    However, an elder could fall five minutes after you leave the house for your daily visit. If this happens, he or she could lay on the floor for hours or longer, unable to get help. So, yes, these new inventions are a terrific help.

    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.”

    If that kind of thinking seeps in, the elder is not getting care. He or she is being monitored. Monitoring can save lives, but monitoring and caregiving are not interchangeable.

    While caregivers need respite, and few get enough, real respite care is human care. Technical monitoring is a terrific tool for eldercare. Alerts can signal when an elder is in trouble, and swift action can be taken. Bring it on! Give us any kind of device that can help with caregiving. But let us never forget that the need for human interaction; human voice; human touch will always be the most profound need. Technology is a tool to help, not a replacement for loving, hands-on care.

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Published On: May 07, 2007