One of the most significant burdens that most of us will take on in our lifetimes is caregiving; particularly when we are around the age of retirement ourselves, and our honored elders are 20-30 years older. Like most areas of our lives, however, steady technological advances have created several new ways to make caregiving far less stressful.
The most significant set of relevant technology comes from the ‘smart home’ sector. A smart home is one that utilizes a number of devices that connect to each other and to your cellphone (and often to a central microcomputer), to share information and receive commands. Some of the more commonly-available (and thus less expensive) systems deploy devices such as:
Smart Thermostats: Get temperature, humidity, and air quality information room-by-room; program the temperature to go up or down based on time, outside temperature, the weather, the presence of people in the home, and other factors. Of course, you can also directly control the temperature from your phone; a boon to seniors for whom walking over to the thermostat might be a major challenge.
Smart Detectors: Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, motion detectors, door/window opening detectors, basically any kind of detector can be added to a smart home system. The lower-end systems are mostly limited to informing you when they go off via text, but the higher-end systems can be programmed to (de)activate other smart devices based on a detector triggering. Can you imagine a system that automatically shut your stove and microwave down in response to a smoke or heat detector going off? Or that sent a message to your phone every day around bedtime that informed you of which doors and windows around your home needed to be shut?
Smart Locks and Doorbells: Smart locks vary significantly in features; there are those that alert your phone whenever they are opened, those that automatically lock themselves after 30 seconds when the door is closed, those that only unlock when an authorized device is within Bluetooth range, and much more. Then there are the doorbells, the most modest of which will buzz your phone and send a snapshot of whoever is at your door when the doorbell is rung.
Video Chat: Varying in size and nature from apps that run on your phone to dedicated camera-and-speaker systems that plug into your TV and turn it into a video chat unit that will ring even if someone calls while the TV is off, there is very little reason for your aging loved one to ever feel out of touch.
Appliances: From the predictable (ranges that send a warning if they sense a burner is on with nothing on top of it) to the extraordinary (fridges that track their contents and allow you to view the inside from a variety of camera angles over your phone so you can tell just what you need from the store), smart appliances are taking off. Unfortunately, most of them are still too pricey for the average consumer, but for someone with a specific need (say, an honored elder with a tendency to leave the freezer open), the investment in a smart appliance can be a lifesaver.
Top-end senior-care-oriented smart-home systems such as GrandCare and Wellness by Alarm.com can even be set up to learn your aging loved one’s habits and routines, and alert you if there are any significant missed benchmarks. But smart homes are just one way in which a relatively modest investment can turn a home into an easier place to perform senior care. Imagine what that same level of technology could do when applied directly to health care.
Here are some of the most exciting advances in health care that can help ease the caregiving burden:
Medication: Smart medication dispensers can be programmed with pill schedules too complex for any human to memorize, and execute them flawlessly. More importantly, they can remind the patient when their dosage should be taken and remind a caregiver near the end of the dosage time window if the patient has not yet taken their pill.
Telehealth: Depending on your state, you may or may not be able to get healthcare services over video chat. If you can, there are a surprising number of dedicated apps and even dedicated devices made to maximize your ability to reach and talk to health care professionals from wherever you are. On the extreme high end, the in-home robot Giraff can actually give a family member or health care professional a virtual physical presence inside the home.
Health Tracking: One of the first smart technologies to reach the health field, “wearables” like the FitBit and the Apple Watch track your blood pressure, pulse, and much more; the health-care-industry versions of these objects are even more comprehensive, with the ability to track anything from blood sugar to skin conductivity. They provide caregivers with an enormous amount of data about what is going on, and what all this information means.
The modern home caregiver’s big limitation, of course, is money. By keeping track of where the slowdowns and hassles are and investing in solutions that address those specific challenges, caregivers can build a customized smart system that can be added to as needs develop, but in increments small enough that your checkbook can keep up.