Taking care of elderly parents can raise any number of personal emotions for children who find they aren’t getting any younger themselves. More than once, I found myself – single, with no children of my own – wondering to whom I would turn at age 86, when living on my own might be proving to be just a bit more than I could handle. Fortunately, assistive technology is advancing at a rapid clip, and it could play a big role in helping more of us stay in our own homes in the next few decades. Following is a sampling of some of the ways equipment makers are building on some current offerings in ways that could help us Boomers age more gracefully in place.
Personal emergency response systems. The old “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” medical-alert products already have gone cellular. Today’s latest GPS-based systems, like the 5Star from Jitterbug maker GreatCall work outside the home, and can help find a wandering loved one. Built-in gyroscopes in some current products also can help detect falls, even when someone is unconscious.
Home telehealth equipment. We had a unit that included a scale, blood-pressure/heart-rate monitor and blood-oxygen meter. Dad’s daily readings went to a central monitoring agency and any outlying results got a quick call from a nurse. GE and Intel recently teamed up on the Care Innovations Guide, which works on any Windows 7 device with a webcam and even enables 2-way video calls with your participating doctor or nurse. It also offers remote glucose monitoring for diabetes patients.
Caregiving coordination. The phone was incredibly helpful to me as a caregiver: It was how I reached out to vent to distant family and friends. But with products like the new – and free – CarePartners Mobile app from Philips (developer of LifeLine home monitoring systems), caregivers can use their smartphones to improve their lives, not just complain about them. Users create a community of family and friends, and a list of tasks (doctor appointments, shopping, or just social engagement) for which those members can volunteer. Tasks can be added directly to your phone’s electronic calendar and email or text messages can help remind volunteers of their commitments.
The “Internet of Things.” So, you may have heard of (and laughed about) refrigerators that monitor their own contents to create automated shopping lists. “Who could need such a thing?” you might’ve asked. Well, think how valuable knowing the milk in mom’s frig is a week past its freshness date could be. Just in the last couple years, manufacturers from lock-maker Kwikset to lighting leader Philips have introduced wireless home products that can be programed and controlled via smartphone and monitored remotely. Have a senior moment and forget your house key? Well, now there’s an app for that.
Parents of autistic children say that one of the most stressful behaviors they have to contend with is their child wandering off alone — so much so that it prevents families from engaging in activities outside the home — and half of parents with concerns about their child’s straying say they haven’t received any guidance or advice on preventing the behavior.
In the first study to gauge how commonly kids with autism spectrum disorders wander, or “elope,” researchers found that half of 1,367 surveyed families with autistic children aged 4 to 17 said their child had wandered away at least once after age 4. Among those families, more than half said their child had disappeared long enough to cause concern.
Forty-three percent of parents whose children had gone missing said their child’s wandering prevented family members from getting a good night’s sleep, and 62% reported that the autistic child’s tendency to elope prevented their family from attending or enjoying activities outside the home.
Autistic children who wandered off were also likely to experience “close calls” — 65% of wandering children were at risk for traffic accidents and 24% were at risk for drowning — and police were called in a third of cases.
“There are an alarming rate of elopements and it is an incredibly common behavior that children with autism engage in,” says lead study author Dr. Paul Law, senior author and director of the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. “They frequently go missing, and often have dangerous encounters.”
As parents, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to support our children’s independence at school and in the community, but the foundation for independent living skills begins at home. Until I became professionally involved in the field of residential assistive technology, I did not realize the impact that technological tools could have on activities of daily living.
With the inclusion of new products like wireless sensors, GPS watches, and instant phone/text notifications, families can do more than just monitor children’s safety. They can also provide solutions for independence. Technology can be used to remind a youth when he forgets to complete a routine, help a child independently control her environment, or assist an adult in teaching important safety skills. Most importantly, technology provides dignified options for enhanced quality of life within the context of a family’s home.
Monitoring and support services can be limited to one area of the house or encompass both indoor and outdoor space. While that may sound costly, today’s assistive technologies are actually more accessible and affordable than one might think. I do, however, always encourage families to check with care coordinators regarding waivers, grants, and additional funding sources as residential technology products are now being included.
-Cameron Kempson, SimplyHome Client Care Specialist