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Assistive Technology for the Elderly: A Guide to Getting Started

Assistive Technology for the Elderly: A Guide to Getting Started

Assistive Technology for the Elderly

Assistive Technology helps people to live healthy, satisfying and independent lives. There are many devices and systems that are included when we talk about assistive technology – from screen readers to accessible mobile phones, telecare to memory aids.

In this guide­ we will introduce you to the different types of assistive technology available for the elderly, talk about the benefits and assumptions people might have, and point you in the direction of available funding.

What is Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology is any device, equipment, gadget or gizmo that helps to bridge gaps in a person’s ability to live the full, independent and fulfilling life they want to. Assistive technology can help many different people in different ways, but for elderly people the main goal is to reduce reliance on other people and care systems and to help them to stay in their homes for longer.

Benefits of Assistive Devices

Assistive technology can help many people in different ways, whether it be someone living with dementia to remember certain things, a stroke survivor to communicate, a visually impaired person to access the internet, or even just a healthy older person to help secure their home.

Assistive devices that are most likely to help your elderly relative are usually electronic gadgets. Health can be improved with medication reminders, pill dispensers, and telehealth systems. Independence and comfort might be focused on with virtual assistants, visual and communication aids, and memory aids. Assistive technology can also be used for home safety and security – smart smoke alarms and doorbells, automated lighting and water-overflow devices to name a few. We’ll give you some more examples below!

The Different Types of Assistive Technology & Devices

There are many examples of assistive devices that you can purchase to help your elderly relative around the house and to stay independent for longer, allowing you to worry less.

Personal Alarms

Personal Alarms - Assistive Technology for the Elderly

These small wearable pendants mean that help is only a button press away, 24/7. Working with a central hub that lives next to your parents’ landline, personal alarms alert either you, a close chosen contact or a monitoring team and allow you to talk directly to them, work out what is wrong, and get suitable help to them quickly. These are especially useful for if an older person has had a fall and can’t get themselves up.

Telecare Systems

Personal Alarms are often included in telecare monitoring systems – digital activity monitoring using sensors throughout the home. Much like sensor burglar or car alarms, telecare monitoring systems only sound the alarm when they detect something out of the ordinary or wrong. If your parent doesn’t leave their bed in the morning or hasn’t shut the front the door, a 24/7 monitoring team (or you via an app) are alerted and a neighbour might be asked to check up on them.

GPS Trackers

Much like personal alarms, and sometimes embedded in them, GPS trackers are worn on the body and do exactly what you expect them to do. These fobs, and wristbands allow you to know where your parent is if they aren’t answering the phone or haven’t been home in a while. If you care for someone with dementia, who is prone to wandering, GPS trackers are a great, low-cost solution.

Home Safety and Security

There are lots of small gadgets and gizmos that can help make life a little easier and safer in the home – and most of them are fairly cheap! It may not be the ‘smart home of the future’ we were all promised but little individual devices can all help do their part to make the home a safer place to be for the elderly and help their carers to worry a little less. Smart doorbells and locks can improve the security of their homes, while also helping you to keep an eye on them and the people that might be visiting them. Smart lighting, specialist smoke and fire alarms, and water overflow sensors do their part to improve the safety of your parents’ home – helping them to live independently for longer.

Memory Aids

Memory Aids for those living with Dementia - Assistive Tech for the Elderly

For many, forgetfulness is part of the natural ageing process and does not necessarily have to be a symptom of dementia. The good news is there are many types of assistive technology designed to help remind your mum or dad to remember their keys, feed the cat, or that they need to take a pill. Memo reminders, automatic pill dispensers and many other devices can all help take some of the stress away from needing to remember everything we need to in daily life.

Communication Aids

There are assistive device solutions to potential communication difficulties an older person may encounter. Accessible mobile phones can help keep older people connected to their friends and loved ones, reducing loneliness and isolation – unfortunately common among the elderly. For those living with a speech impairment, speech generating devices can help give them a voice again.

Visual Aids and Screen Readers

Visual impairment should not stop the elderly making use of some of the wonderous technology we have today, like computers, tablets and smartphones. Assistive technology can help people who can’t or struggle to see to navigate these devices. Screen Readers read out what is going on on the screen of computers, smartphones and tablets, helping the visually impaired to move around the device, select next actions, and access the internet. Most devices these days have screen reader options built into the accessibility controls, however there are also some other downloadable options that might work better for you.

The most popular application for Mac computers and iPhones is VoiceOver (built in/ free), and for Windows try JAWS (paid) or NVDA (free).

Funding for Assistive Technology

Funding Assistive Technology for the Elderly

Some types of assistive technology can be supplied for free by your local authority as part of a care package. The main aim of local councils with social care is to help an elderly person to stay independent, at home, for longer and so assistive technology can be a relatively inexpensive way to aid this, often removing the need for a full time carer.

To have access to funding help from your local council, your elderly relative will have to undergo a care needs assessment, to decide first whether they are applicable for help, secondly what can be done to help, and finally how much of the help the council can provide.

Once they have completed the needs assessment, a social worker can talk through the options they think might help your relative to stay safe and independent, many of which might include assistive technology. These talks are meant to be discussions on what is best for your relative – so if you think that a particular assistive device might help, you can put it forward as an option.

VAT Exemption

If your elderly relative is registered as disabled, or has a long-term health condition, where applicable, they can to claim that the cost of VAT be removed from a range of assistive technology. This can really add up to a substantial saving – so it is always worth checking if a product is available for VAT exemption.

Ethical Considerations with Assistive Technology for the Elderly

There are some reasons to consider that might mean assistive technology might not be suitable for your elderly relative. Some people will be worried or uncomfortable with the idea of digital monitoring and activity surveillance. While most assistive technology, like those using motion sensors, don’t actively record activity with video or send information to anyone, some telecare packages and smart doorbells do record and store video – which may be unsettling to some people. While these products have worked hard on maintaining privacy, this is certainly something to consider when looking into assistive tech, especially making sure your relatives are comfortable living with them.

Other questions that are important to ask when it comes to assistive devices are whether they overcomplicate the task they are trying to simplify for you elderly relative, and whether they reduce social contact that your relative enjoys. For example, getting a digital pill dispenser might mean your parent doesn’t see a social care worker as often, or installing a telecare package might mean an elderly person needs less welfare visits from friends.

There are lots of variables to consider when choosing assistive technology, but when it is implemented correctly, it can really help to make older people safer and happier.

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