Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide

Technology
The Secret to Growing Old in a Place Called Home

Meet Ernesto. Ernesto's 87 years old and like many people his age, lives with heart disease, high blood pressure and memory loss. A team of doctors manages his care. His closest family members live an hour away. But that doesn't stop Ernesto from living independently in his home, managing multiple medications or enjoying a weekly poker game with friends.

How does he do it? The answer is technology. With the help of every day technologies like cell phones and computers, Ernesto, his family and his healthcare providers created a communication network centered around what he needs to stay in the place he's called home for generations.

Just take Ernesto's cell phone. It is programmed to remind him when and how to take his diabetes medications check his blood sugar levels. Ernesto can then sign on his computer and send his doctor that information using a secure online "filing cabinet." This "e-exchange" allows the doctor to monitor any changes and send him suggestions with the click of a mouse.

But it's not just about tests and treatments. Ernesto also uses videoconferencing to celebrate his birthday with family on the east coast and plays online card games to keep his memory strong.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Right now, Ernesto's story is more vision than reality. The moral of his story is that with hard work and a imagination, we can ensure that technology helps us create what millions of seniors deserve: a life filled with dignity and independence in a place they call home.

The Caregiver Network: Putting Communication at the Center

To achieve this goal, all of us must establish and support caregiver networks. Why? The answer's easy: communication. Caregiver networks would allow individuals to share information that promotes proactive and preventive care focused on educational empowerment, behavior modification and multigenerational planning.

A caregiver network would also support family caregivers near and far. Nearly 34 million Americans provide care to older family members, and 15 percent of them live an hour or more away from their loved ones. The trend of providing long-distance care is not likely to reverse itself. That's why it's essential that older adults and their caregivers can use technology to stay engaged and involved in care planning.

Technology is also an integral part of strengthening relationships to improve a senior's quality of care and life. Technological developments can collapse the distance among a senior, his or her loved ones and healthcare providers to form partnerships in healthcare decision making, increase opportunities for socialization and most important, help the individual life with dignity and independence in their homes.

Does the caregiver network today?

Just ask Mark Schneider, a marketing executive from New York City. Because of technology, Mark no longer worries that his 92-year-old father is not eating regularly or that his activity levels are dwindling. That's because his father, Carl, is participating in a project that Selfhelp Community Services, Inc. launched to help seniors like him live independently and keep their loved ones informed at the same time.

Selfhelp installed monitoring technologies throughout Carl's apartment. This wireless system tracks everything from Carl's sleeping schedule to his apartment temperature. The information is then sent to a secure Web site where Mark can log on anytime to check in on his dad, exchange information with his Social Worker and most important, sign off with peace of mind.

On the other side of the country, there is Al Hida, a resident at Eskaton retirement community in Carmichael, California. Eskaton recently partnered with Intel to develop a health information system that empowers seniors to manage their health care records and helps their health care providers get the information they need to help them even more. When Al heard about the partnership, he was intrigued. How could a computer company help him get better health care?

To answer his question, Eskaton asked Al to be one of several residents who tested out the new system in late 2005. Now, Al can fax everything from new prescriptions to test results into a secure "Internet Filing Cabinet" for his family members and health care providers to view. But that's only part of it. Al is now helping the project leaders create a more integrated way for his doctors to communicate with him using a similar program.

These stories personify why The American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging to establish the Center for Aging Services Technologies, or CAST, in 2003. CAST's charge is to bring together researchers, technology companies, aging-services providers and policy leaders to explore how their work together can accelerate technology's potential to transform aging in our country.

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