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How Technology Can Assist Long-Distance Elder Care

Dec 20, 2018 09:15AM ● By Med Magazine

By Claire Wentz

As a provider, you know that caring for a senior is difficult. Your patients whose parents live far away may think it’s impossible. From scheduling doctor’s appointments to making sure they stay on top of their Medicare coverage, long-distance caregiving can be a challenge. Knowing ways to ease the burden can lessen the emotional, physical, and financial impact of the task. Reducing this type of stress may even keep your patients healthier in the long-term.

Luckily, new technology can help your patients get through it a bit more easily. The internet has long been a source of assistance for families caring for a loved one near or far. For instance, there are thousands of web pages dedicated to helping seniors understand Medicare plans and how to make changes to them (here’s a great resource that takes the guesswork out of Medicare for seniors and their families). And now, thanks to smartphones, nearly everyone has a fully-functioning computer right in their pockets, and the apps that run on them are constantly evolving and making the long-distance caregiver role simpler than ever.

Types of apps for senior care include:

  1. Health trackers -- Apps that track health can help adult children monitor their aging parents’ wellness from afar, as well as communicate with their doctor or pharmacist. Some have the ability to view blood pressure, blood sugar and lab results all from a smartphone. Keeping up with their parent’s health will give your patients peace of mind when their loved one lives far away.

  2. Pharmacy apps -- Keeping up with medication can help ensure that a senior is taking the right medicine and in the right dosage. These apps can communicate with a pharmacist, who can also help monitor drug intake. There are even smart pill dispensers that reduce the chances of the wrong medications being ingested.

  3. Monitoring apps -- Medical alert wearables have been in operation for years. When someone falls in their home, they can push a button for emergency services. These days, there are devices that are attached to cell phone systems so that seniors can call for help no matter where they are. Some also have fall-monitoring devices that alert the family if their loved one has fallen. This ensures they can get help onsite quickly.

  4. Social apps -- With the advent of video calling with such apps as Skype and FaceTime, now your patients can can call on their elderly relatives face to face. This allows a caregiver to check for visible signs of trouble. Many manufacturers now offer easy-to-use tablets designed specifically for seniors.

  5. Selling apps -- Downsizing is always a good idea, but it’s especially important for older adults. While they may be happy in their own homes, they likely will eventually have to move. Also, having too much clutter around the house can be a falling hazard. Remind them to be gentle and understanding when talking to a senior about downsizing. Many of their items may be a reminder of specific places and events that are precious to them. With the senior’s permission, your patients can download apps that allow them to snap a picture of an item with a phone and place it for sale. You can also suggest they donate some items or hand them down to other members of the family so these treasures will have a home with those who love them.

    Obviously, assisting in the downsizing process from afar can be a real challenge. Remind your patient that it does not have to happen all at once. On their next visit, they can work with their parent to go through their belongings slowly, room by room. If there are other family members who can help, suggest taking turns until they can get everything organized.

  6. Use the phone. It might seem silly, but these days, it seems we rarely call people on the phone. An elderly person, though, likely uses a landline, so encourage your patient to give their mom or dad a call and talk to them regularly. Keeping in contact will help them feel closer and will let their elderly loved one feel less alone.

Remember that technology can be scary for someone who is a senior and doesn’t want to constantly have to learn new things. Most apps only require minimum input from the person for whom they caring. Using technology to help care for someone isn’t just the way of the future, it’s the way of today.

Claire Wentz is the creator of the blog