Housing Article:

Technology helps older adults stay in own homes

July 11, 2007

by Pam McGaffin, of Moore Ink. PR
(Pam writes articles about important health, family and community issues for nonprofit organizations.)

Imagine getting a medical checkup from the comfort of your own living room. No need to jump in the car and drive to the clinic.

Your nurse has received your latest vital signs through a device that records and sends data over the phone lines, and now she is on screen talking to you via interactive audio-video.

The future is here. An ever-expanding array of products - from simple blood-pressure monitors to “smart home” sensors that can remind you to turn off the tap - are making it possible for older adults to remain safely in their homes.

Home-care technology and “telehealth” are buzzwords for a growing arena that could revolutionize the way we age and access health care, according to the Healthy Aging Partnership, a coalition of 35 Puget Sound-area not-for-profit organizations dedicated to the health and well-being of older adults.

Technology, which has already changed the way we live and get information, is sure to play a growing role in health care as 77 million baby boomers hit their senior years, HAP notes.

A wide spectrum of home gizmos and gadgets are being developed to fill the gap between a shortage of caregivers and a ballooning aging population. Technology can help them put off or avoid long-term institutionalized care while giving them the comfort of knowing that help is there if they need it.

Visiting Nurse Services of the Northwest, a home health care organization serving King, Snohomish and Skagit counties, is one of a number of agencies offering a Lifeline program that connects patients to a 24-hour emergency monitoring system with the push of a button on a wristband or pendant.

VNS also manages home monitoring programs that allow patients to keep track of their own vital signs, including blood pressure and blood-glucose levels. The data is transmitted over phone lines or via satellite to a nurse on duty, who reviews the information and calls the patient if any measurements appear out of line or if the patient fails to send data according to schedule.

“Our patients feel a sense of security knowing that a nurse is viewing their vital signs seven days a week,” said Debbie Hammer, team manager of the VNS telehealth program.

If you or someone you know might benefit from home care technology, check with your doctor or health care professional and shop around to compare services, HAP advises.

Meanwhile, here’s some information and tips to consider:

  • Many assistive devices are designed to make life easier for anyone, not just older adults and those with disabilities. With the plethora of devices on the market, you can renovate your home into one that enables a functionally impaired person to carry out his or her daily life independently.
  • Before you call the contractors, however, start with the basics. Just eliminating loose rugs and other hazards is one of the best ways to prevent falls, the leading cause of injury deaths among people 65 and older. Get non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower, secure those rugs, improve lighting and install grab bars in the bathroom and handrails next to stairways.
  • If you live alone and are at risk for a fall or other health emergency, consider Lifeline or another Personal Emergency Response System (PERS), which can alert a response center in the event of an emergency. A PERS works much like a small radio transmitter and can help ensure a fast response if an accident occurs.
  • Self-monitoring devices that allow patients to keep track of their blood pressure and other vital signs have several potential benefits. They can help older adults with chronic conditions take control of their own health, give health providers better data and records, ease the burden on family caregivers and prevent costly trips to the doctor.
  • Devices, from the simple to the sophisticated, exist to help with a range of needs: bedside controls can help physically disabled seniors control lighting, temperature and other settings; a simple blinking light instead of a doorbell can help those with impaired hearing; while large handled combs and Velcro fasteners can help people with limited fine motor abilities.
  • Technology also is being used to help older adults who might otherwise become sedentary maintain their mobility and independence. A robotic “intelligent” walker, for example, can help the user steer clear of obstacles, pass through doorways and even follow a particular route.
  • Before you purchase any device, system or piece of equipment, do your homework. Many insurance companies won’t cover such expenses, and those that do require a doctor’s recommendation. PERS, for example, can be rented or leased as well as purchased, and some hospitals and social service agencies subsidize fees for low-income users.

For more information about home-care technology and assistive devices or other issues related to life as an older adult, call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464) or visit www.4elders.org. The free and confidential resource line offers a wealth of information and assistance to seniors and their caregivers.