Digital Technology to Help Family Caregivers Improve Senior Care

Technology has become invaluable when caring for senior adults – and we have barely scratched the surface on its potential.

Local and long distance family caregivers can now be a bigger part of the daily lives of their senior loved ones by following a wide range of activities, not only health and safety related but also socialization activities.

Early adopters have found many devices useful and others not living up to their expectations, but those are the risks and benefits of trying something first. It is important to learn what we can about each device so that we can gain maximum benefits for our senior loved ones.

We hope you find the following information interesting and useful!

Mobile Health Devices

Wearable sensors that provide health information, wireless monitoring devices and apps all have the potential to improve the health of our senior loved ones by helping the patient, healthcare team and family caregivers all gain more control over chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart failure while also reducing the cost of that healthcare delivery. They provide valuable information to family caregivers remotely so that they can monitor the safety and well-being of senior loved ones on a day to day, hour to hour and minute to minute basis.

Changing health behaviors is a goal of many of these devices, as the information they provide can guide our seniors’ lifestyle choices such as diet, medications, home safety and exercise to needed improvements based on the data these devices provide. Being connected to healthcare professionals can get our seniors the medical care they need in real time as it can be noted when health markers become unbalanced, usually before a crisis occurs.

Many of these devices also provide health coaching and information to understand the changes occurring and how to make changes to improve outcomes. The data can also be used during doctor visits to help guide the treatment plan such as changes in medications or other interventions.

Little Data Feeding Health Big Data

The data that comes from these tech devices will be increasing in the coming years and how we use and secure the information is currently an area of focus not only for the industry and health professionals but agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. Here are some examples of the wireless mobile health products that may help our seniors:

  1. Medication management – medication dispensers with audible reminders of times to take pills and reports for caregivers to check up on whether their loved ones are following the plan. Automatic dispensers that fill daily containers with the correct number and type of pills to be taken at specific times are available. This can be locked if not taken correctly to prevent double dosing.
  2. Diabetes tracking – wireless blood sugar monitors that send real time results to the healthcare provider so that instructions can be given such as medication adjustments, diet changes and other treatments to prevent medical emergencies. Family caregivers can receive notifications when blood sugar readings are in the danger zone.
  3. Smoking cessation – apps provide a messaging guide through the process of behavior change to quit smoking. Other devices track days of cessation, and money saved by eliminating smoking. Some apps actually provide hypnosis training to reduce behaviors of smoking.
  4. Blood pressure monitoring – blood pressure monitors take readings at specific intervals. The information can be sent directly to physicians and caregivers so that the readings are are tracked and interventions can happen quickly if needed.  There are also apps that can monitor blood pressure before and after physical activity.
  5. Asthma control – monitoring, treating and tracking of lung disease by recording peak flow thereby adjusting medications based on symptoms. Other devices measure pollutants and track via GPS data atmospheric changes that can affect symptoms.
  6. Depression management – monitor stressors, symptoms of anxiety, depression scale testing, feelings log, mood assessments, guided activities that allow seniors to improve health. All the information collected using these tools can be electronically shared with caregivers and the healthcare team. There are electronic counseling sessions available for those who can’t or choose not to visit a therapist.
  7. Weight control and fitness – by far the largest segment of electronic devices fall into this category due to the number of individuals seeking assistance not just seniors. These devices have important applications to senior health too! Devices can:
    1. track weight change, which is important for heart failure patients by connecting home scale to the physician;
    2. provide tips for managing meal intake and portion control;
    3. offer guidance and training for exercise routines replacing a gym or personal trainer;
    4. serve as calculators that provide data for calorie needs, body mass index, body and visceral fat measurements and other physical measurements;
    5. supply restaurant information to help in making healthy food choices; body sensors that track daily activity; and
    6. assist seniors with specially-designed apps to manage their weight and health providing coaching to make sense of the data and tips to make changes.
  8. Emergency preparedness and disaster assistance – plans to connect with authorities in the event of a weather related emergency or man-made disaster, emergency checklists, shelter locations, evacuation routes, contact information for authorities, first aid information, and information tailored for seniors at home.
  9. Fall prevention and monitoring – fall prevention monitors, personal security devices, and emergency aid assistance devices all can be monitored through a phone line via wrist watches and data sent wirelessly to family caregivers or emergency personnel.  Some fall detection devices can be worn on the body or clipped on the belt like a pager and signal when a fall occurs without needing the person to push a button for help. There are also apps that help prevent falls such as those that provide training exercises for seniors to improve balance and strength to help prevent falling.
  10. Home safety monitoring – motion sensors can track movements of seniors in their homes for caregivers. Has mom been in the kitchen today to eat?  Is dad going out the front door in the middle of the night? Is the stove turned on and not turned off? Did mom go into the bathroom for a bath and not come out in a reasonable amount of time? Automatic shut off devices for appliances such as the stove ensure seniors are safe. Heat sensors can be installed to detect unattended heat sources with a circuit breaker connected for automatic shutoff.

The list of digital gadgets is growing.  The primary obstacle for many family caregivers, especially as the cost comes down, will be acceptance on the part of their seniors. Making it easy, interesting and even fun – enter the “gamification” we expect to see in many apps for seniors – will be a key to compliance with these ‘space age’ gadgets.

Helping your senior understand the important role they play in keeping them safe as they age in place will likely be a challenge.  Keeping the lines of communication open with your senior, especially when you are far away, will help keep you connected.

Check back with us at Senior Care Corner regularly and we will keep you connected to the latest information on the tech we can use to make our senior loved ones’ lives better.