Technology will have a tremendous positive impact on the ability of our senior loved ones to live safe, healthy and comfortable lives in the homes of their choosing. Some of that impact is being seen already and we are just scratching the surface with tech’s potential.
We at Senior Care Corner are ardent advocates for that technology and for using devices already available to get our seniors actively engaged with their families, communities and healthcare.
We read a recent report that reinforces what we have been saying regarding the importance of getting seniors and family caregivers connected to others through the latest technology.
Online Health Communities
One way seniors together with their family caregivers can get involved for the improvement in their health is to become a part of an online health community.
A new study reported in the Journal of Medical Internet Research studied some pioneering work in the Netherlands. The study focused on chronic disease care being performed between physicians and patients online via health communities.
The study in question involved Parkinson’s disease patients who participated in an online health community (OHC). This was conducted in cooperation with ParkinsonNet, which is a network of physicians and other healthcare professionals working in partnership with patients.
The participants interacted via blogs, online chats, forums or other online connections.
Benefits for Seniors
In the United States a similar community would be PatientsLikeMe, which brings together health professionals and a wide variety of patients with different conditions. The online groups generally interact with those of like diseases, sharing particular information specific to that disease process. It’s similar to online support groups but with the added benefit of healthcare providers giving medical information for the improvement of chronic disease.
There are also other online health communities that are “closed,” meaning that the information shared is confidential between the patients and healthcare professionals. Forums in these groups are public but individual answers are private.
Family caregivers are included in these groups as well as the patients. Peer support, information sharing, medical advice, and practical tips from other people in similar situations helps to provide much needed support and knowledge to help patients and family caregivers maintain or improve health outcomes. Self-management of chronic disease is the goal of online health communities. The information is more patient centered.
These types of online communities provide medical help to those who may not be able to have face to face interaction with healthcare professionals whenever desired due to homebound status or distance.
Social Networking at its Best
These online health communities represent social networking at its best. Not only are friends made and engagement and interaction facilitated, but support and guidance for medical care can occur from behind a computer screen (or tablet or smartphone!). Researchers also found that participants become highly motivated when engaged.
The power is in their hands to take charge of their disease.
Researchers stated that, in the US, patients were willing to share information despite fears of security but doctors have been more reluctant to engage in this type of forum and rarely accept “friend requests” from patients on Facebook.
Naturally, getting connected requires devices and knowledge about using the devices, which can often be provided by family members. Many might look to their grandchildren, who are superusers of technology and usually eager to share their experience with others.
Sharing information and becoming emotionally connected to others could be a powerful benefit for your senior loved one. Let’s get them energized to become part of the latest technology to help them age successfully.
Don’t stop with getting them involved, though. These online health networks can provide you – as a family caregiver – an opportunity to learn from and lean on others going through similar experiences. Remember, family caregivers’ needs are important too!