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Technology to stay at home—Medication and Food!

When a loved one has been injured, is recovering from a sudden illness, or coping with an emerging chronic condition, it can be challenging to arrange the home in ways to meet that person’s needs, particularly if that person is very independent. There’s little time to do extensive research or planning. This article is a quick reference on some increasingly common and moderately priced technologies that can make recovery from illness or coping with a chronic condition easier. This article will focus on taking medicine and eating/food preparation.

One difficulty in finding solutions for particular care needs lies in the terminology used. It’s hard to find things on the Internet or in stores if you don’t know the name regularly used by medical professionals or sellers. Let’s explore some areas of typically needed assistance and look at some types (not brands) of products or services that are now commercially available. As with any purchase, buyers need to read the fine print carefully, and think about whether the product will meet their need. Opportunities for product trials and return policies vary greatly.

Before discussing the products, let’s talk about attitude. The technology can’t possibly help if it isn’t tried and used because of an attitude against it. To take some of the fear or stigma away, use language that people will feel good about. For example, to introduce an item, say something like: “There are some cool new tools to make cooking easier. I would love a gadget like this at my house.” Words like tools, gear and gadget may get better reception instead of words like medical devices or medical equipment. Focus on the goal to make life easier, and use words like more efficient, faster, and simpler; a positive attitude toward the technology goes a long way toward ensuring its use.

After a hospitalization or illness, remembering to take medication at certain times of day, and under what conditions, can be a problem. Fatigue and pain make it hard for even the best patient to follow instructions. A relatively new tool available to help with managing medication is an automatic medicine dispenser or a pill dispenser with alarm. These machines are loaded with a supply of medication and programmed to alert the patient with an audio tone or vibration signaling it is time to take the medication. The machine dispenses the pills. Some systems can also alert a contact person if medication is not taken from the dispenser. Automatic medication dispensing systems run the range of price from $150 to $900. Some can manage large of amounts of medicines at many times per day. Others have fewer features but work fine for people who take only a few medications.

Other options include clocks and watches to remind people to take their medication. These are typically called medication reminder devices. They tend to be less expensive, ranging from $20 to $150. For folks not fond of gadgets, there are telephone reminder services that can be programmed on-line to make telephone calls to trigger a medication reminder. These reminder services can also be used for wake up calls, remind people to eat or drink, or to mark birthdays/anniversaries, special events, appointments and other common tasks. Email services are also available for those who are on-line regularly. Search terms include automated telephone calls and reminder services. These services usually carry a monthly fee of $10-$25.

Eating can be a challenge when you don’t feel well or when you have limited use of your hands. An adjustable universal cuff is an interesting low-tech device that is put around the handle of a fork or spoon. The cuff rests below the fingers and can hold a fork, spoon, hairbrush, toothbrush and the like to allow people to take care of some fundamental tasks with the palm of their hand instead of the fine grip of fingers. Universal cuffs are available from a wide variety of companies and cost about $15. Some companies also make utensils with large grips that fit the palm better than thin utensils or “holders” that you can add to any set of silverware. Look for fat grips, built up handles, or clip-on utensils. Food bumpers are great for folks who need a backstop to keep their food on the plate to leverage the food on to a utensil. Another option is to serve food in plates or bowls with lips that can be used like a wall to allow for easier scooping with a fork or spoon. Non-slip or non-skid mats or stick-ons and rubber grippers can be used to keep the bowl or plate in place. You can also purchase special non-skid dishes. If a loss of appetite is also a concern, some research seems to indicate that serving food on plates that are the color red helps encourage people to eat more.

Manufacturers are using these adaptive concepts to make kitchen tools as well. Look for ergonomic vegetable peelers, Swedish cutting boards, bread-spread-boards, pot and pan holder for the stove, finger protectors, ergonomic tab grabber/bottle openers, “rocking T” knives, 2-liter handle, non-slip mixing bowls…. there are so many helpful options! Some additional search terms include: low stress or stress free, assistive devices, adaptive devices, gripping problems, one hand operation, limited hand use, and assistive devices. You can also search by medical diagnosis for tools and devices.

Drinking enough fluids can also be hard during recovery and very important to ensure the effectiveness of some medications. While disposable straws are still a great way to make drinking easier, there are also some new tools to think about. Look for “nose cutout cup or nosey cup” which is a cup designed for drinking without tilting the head. T-handle cups, easy grips cups, and weighted mugs can also make drinking more dignified and reduce spills due to tremor. Other search terms include: Kennedy cup, wedge cup, one way straws, straw holders, thumbs up cups, dysphasia cup, and vacuum feeding cups.

These are just some of the simple technologies that are available to make life easier for the ones we love. Failure to take medication as prescribed, to eat and to drink enough food and fluids are key problems that can land someone back into the hospital or signal the need for a change in living arrangements. These simple and relatively low cost ideas might make the difference for someone you know or are caring for.

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