Assistive Technology for the Elderly

Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

Assistive technology can help the elderly lead more independent lives. It can also reduce the need for home healthcare services or a move to a nursing home. Read on to learn more about assistive technology for seniors.

Assistive Technology for the Elderly

Assistive technology (AT) for the elderly is any service or device that helps seniors accomplish tasks or have greater independence that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Technology ranges from a simple walking stick to a home-aid social robot.

For many seniors, AT is the solution to continuing to live independently and foregoing long-term nursing or home-health care. When considering high-tech or low-tech equipment and which products are best suited for a person's individual needs, consulting with a physician and team of specialists, as well as family members and caregivers, can help in weighing the pros and cons of assistive technologies.

The Assistive Technology Act, often called the Tech Act, provides a grant to each state to offer services and information to the elderly with disabilities and their caregivers. Seniors can also take advantage of Medicare, VA Health Benefits, Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), and local civic, faith-based, and veterans' organizations and senior centers that offer advice and financial assistance.

Types of Assistive Technology

Some categories and related products that may be of particular interest to seniors can be found below. This list is not exhaustive, however, and much more information, including hundreds of products, can be found through resources provided by the U.S. Administration on Aging.

Switches & Modifications for the Home

Adaptive switches make it easier for the elderly to operate computers and home appliances. For instance, single-channel transmitters control all battery-operated equipment in an apartment or a house, including fans, televisions, air conditioners, lamps, and coffee makers from just one controller. Switches activated by the voice or tongue allow the elderly to turn on power wheelchairs, telephone answering machines, and computers. Additionally, light switch extensions allow the turning on and turn off light switches from a wheelchair, chair, or bed.

Special modifications made directly to the home include transforming the front door into a fully automatic, revolving, and speed controllable door that accommodates wheelchair access. In the bathroom, a sensor for automatically flushing the commode can be installed, easily activated by walking away, waving a hand, or programming a timer. Additionally, smart-home technology provides seniors with the option of having a social robot that facilitates communication between them and their caregivers.

Adaptations that help seniors complete everyday tasks include devices that can hold a ballpoint pen, open cans and bottles, put on shoes, and safely prepare foods with 3-D knives. Low-tech memory aids, programmed in the familiar voice of a loved one, give personal reminders throughout the day for important tasks like taking medication, keeping appointments, and performing household tasks. A Bluetooth adaptor worn around the neck allows those with hearing loss to use a mobile phone or listen to music hands-free and without interference from a hearing aid or cochlear implant.

Communication and Recreation

Keeping in touch with family, friends, and medical professionals is important to a senior's quality of life, as well as safety. Two-way talking phones and mobile SOS pendants worn around the neck alert caregivers to emergency situations with simple voice control or panic buttons. Remote monitors allow family members and caregivers to get real-time updates on a senior's activities and needs without compromising privacy.

Mobile phones featuring larger keypads and bigger fonts make dialing and manipulating contacts easier. As an added benefit to seniors, many apps are available for smartphones that monitor blood pressure, give medication reminders, dictate messages and send them as texts, read books aloud or in larger fonts, and scan barcodes for easier shopping. Large-print keyboards, adaptive mice and track balls, and joysticks make navigating the computer easier for seniors with limited vision or dexterity.

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