The holiday season can be overwhelming for family caregivers. I was grateful to take advantage of the technology that was available when my parents were alive to make the caregiving job easier. Health technology is a rapidly growing field, and now there are numerous apps, aids and devices to help seniors safely age at home. I’m going to name a few products that I either have used or am familiar with, in case you are buying a gift for a caregiver or senior living at home alone this holiday season. (These are not endorsements, just feedback from a real user and former caregiver.)
Senior-friendly phone: My mom loved her Jitterbug phone, which is made by Great Call. Mom was not tech-savvy at all, and she was a bit skeptical about even using a cell phone at first, but she quickly learned how convenient it was. By far, the phone was the best gift I ever bought for her.
Medical alert services: I purchased a Philips Lifeline device for my mother, because that’s the brand the local home health agency used at the time. The service was quite useful and I felt that it was worth the monthly monitoring fee. My mom had a few falls over the last year or so of her life and each one was immediately recognized by the sensor that she wore as a necklace. A representative checked on her over the intercom to see if she needed additional assistance. One time she did, and EMTs arrived to check her over.
The one downside was that the pendant that Mom wore was very sensitive and could easily be accidentally activated. That part annoyed Mom, but I guess it’s better to be too sensitive than to not work when you need it.
Another kind of medical alert service is a wandering detector for those with dementia. I bought one for my father that was part of the Alzheimer Association’s Safe Return program, but we never had the opportunity to use it before Dad entered the Memory Care unit. As GPS and other location tools become more refined, I think these kinds of tools can be very helpful. Instead of a bulky device, something as small and easy to apply as a tag on clothing could help monitor those with dementia. When I was setting up Dad’s unit, I did notice that because of my parents’ rural location, the GPS signal was weak.
Blood pressure monitors: Neither of my parents had blood pressure issues, but at-home blood pressure monitors are readily available on Amazon for a reasonable price. While these devices should never replace an actual doctor or home health visit, they might be useful for seniors who like to take a proactive approach to their health or their caregivers who wish to monitor a loved one’s blood pressure in-between professional check-ups.
Smart home speaker (Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.): I think my mother would have loved the interactive features of the Amazon Echo. I bought one out of curiosity, and bought another device so I can use it to control the living room lights. I also use it to play music as it has a decent speaker. Other than that, I don’t use it that much, but I could see my mom using it almost as a remote companion, asking it questions, getting it to tell jokes, telling her the weather, etc.
Another excellent use of these smart home speakers is for medication reminders. I would have loved to have used it to remind Mom to drink water on a more regular basis, which may have helped with her chronic constipation. The best thing about these devices is they are so easy to use once they are set up. Basically the user just needs to say the trigger name or phrase and then ask a question or command. The devices do require Wi-Fi, and initial setup can be a bit of a pain.
Tablets: I was never sucked in by the attraction of tablets, because I’m a computer power user who would rather just use my laptop for bigger screen tasks, and am fine using my smartphone for small screen tasks. The tablet was a solution searching for a problem to me. However, the mobility and ease of use of tablets could be ideal for seniors.
Tablets make tasks like emails, instant messaging and video messaging, viewing photos and videos super-simple. Playing word games can help keep older minds active and being able to connect with others remotely could reduce loneliness.
Find a professional caregiver online: One of the best gifts you could offer a caregiver is a break. I’ve used Care.com before, and liked how you could search online for caregivers in your area. Payment could be made online, which I found convenient.