Safety and Independence: Assisted Technology for Communication

Date:

June 4, 2022
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Probably the two most common changes for many people as they age is hearing loss and changes in vision. Fortunately, advances in computer, telephone, and smart device technology have helped older adults and people with disabilities to continue to live more independently. Simple solutions like hearing aids and glasses can help maintain connections to family, friends, and support services.

IMPORTANT: Once needs are identified, older adults and family caregivers have to evaluate options and costs to fit budgets. Some, but not all, insurance plans may help with costs. Veterans with service-connected loss may also receive help.

Assisted Technology for Communication

Among the many options are modified traditional telephones which may use large buttons, headsets, speakerphone capabilities, keyboards, and visual displays to make telephones useable by older adults and people with disabilities. Technology is changing rapidly, providing many more options. 

Computer technology allows people to stay in contact via email or messaging. Increasingly sophisticated yet often easier to use technology uses modified keyboards or voice recognition software, enabling individuals to use computers more effectively. Smart phones and tablets now also offer many options with voice-to-text features, voice operated commands, different texting functions, and several applications for communication for people to remain or become more independent.  

Researching computers, smartphones, and tablets is important to not only choose the most useful devise within the person’s budget but also with the level of technology that does not overwhelm the user. Remember, just because something is new does not mean it is best for your care receiver.

Deaf and Hearing Impaired

As people age, they often experience hearing loss, including veterans who have service-connected hearing loss. As a caregiver, look for clues that indicate hearing loss. Often subtle behaviors such as withdrawing from conversations, turning television and radio volume higher, and denial that a problem exists are signs to consider. Talk with the person’s doctor. If the care receiver is open to testing, schedule a hearing test. Loss of hearing presents many challenges. For information and guidance, read more about it. 

When hearing loss is diagnosed, the most common solution is hearing aids. Advances in technology have led to smaller hearing aids with many features, including the ability to control the devise from a smartphone. The care receiver’s comfort with hearing aids and the technology makes a big difference in whether they will adjust to wearing them. Read about ideas on helping someone adjust to wearing hearing aids.

Accessible telephones, videophones, captioning, real-time transcription, telecommunication with TTYs and TDDs, and visual alert systems can offer ways for people who are deaf or hearing impaired to communicate. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, frequency modulation (FM) systems, and other options may be available. One can also visit the National Association of the Deaf website https://www.nad.org/

For people with communication difficulties due to stroke, ALS, aphasia, quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis or other disorders, assistive technology can be very helpful in allowing them to communicate with others. Rapid advances in technology have resulted in products that dramatically increase the independence of people with very limited mobility, allowing them to “speak,” operate lights and other controls, and remain active members of their families and communities.

  • Communication boards can be simple low-tech plastic boards with graphics and a keyboard-style letter display to convey messages. Automated boards with voice input or a computer screen are also available.
  • Voice or eye activated communication systems allow people with complex physical difficulties to operate a computer or a telephone to communicate with others.
  • Speech amplification and adaptation systems are automated speech processing systems that can correct garbled speech for improved communication.

Reading & Vision Aids

Recent developments in smart technology have helped older adults and people who have vision and reading needs to live independently. Special laptops, tablets, braille keyboards, and braille displays are some ways for people with vision disabilities to work as well as communicate with others. Newer technology such as Aira through Google puts people in contact with agents through a call center and those agents watch live video stream and guide people through cities and daily activities.

For more information about support for vision differences, visit the American Foundation for the Blind website: https://www.afb.org.

Technology for Monitoring Potential Crisis

Personal emergency response systems (also called medical response systems) use a pendant, bracelet, or belt that issues an alert in the event of a crisis, such as an accident, fall, or other emergency when unattended. At the press of a button, a monitor center will be altered, which will then call any registered contacts and emergency services based on the caller’s medical information. These devices are for people able to activate the signal and who do not have dementia.

Monitors may be helpful if your care recipient is prone to falls. These monitors use pressure-sensitive chair or bed pads that activate when the person moves to get up.

Systems often called baby monitors can also be used for in-home care, providing sound and visual wherever the person is. However, the device has to move as the person moves from room to room.

Webcams and other computerized monitoring systems are more technologically advanced methods of monitoring someone in one or multiple rooms. Webcams are basically video cameras that can allow you to see a person and monitor potential problems. Other types of computerized monitoring systems are in development by a number of companies and may use motion detection or other means to monitor and continually gather and process the information at a central monitoring site that can then alert you if there is a problem.

Smart devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Siri on Apple products, have become a popular and potentially less expensive way for older adults or people with disabilities to contact emergency services. These devices use voice activated commands and the ability to have several devices around the home.

Technology for Cognitive Impairment or Dementia

Several types of devices may help those with cognitive impairment or dementia to live at home more safely.

Memory aids include jumbo analog wall clocks with daily calendar, talking clocks/wrist watches, voice-activated phone dialers, automated pill dispensers with message machine and timer, and a find-it beeping device to keep track of small items such as car keys and glasses.

Symbols or warning signs on doors, cabinets and dangerous appliances can help a person with dementia maneuver more safely around the house. Reflective tape on stairs or sunken rooms are also useful.

If your care recipient wanders or forgets where they are, the following can be quite helpful:

  • Mobility monitors and tracking systems come in a variety of designs, though all usually require that your care receiver wear a small ankle or wrist transmitter. The transmitter triggers an alert system, or a receiver which you can monitor, when the individual passes beyond a set range or exits activated doorways.
  • 24/7 Wandering Support service. The Alzheimer’s Association, in collaboration with MedicAlert® Foundation, “provides membership plans with 24/7 Wandering Support. The nationwide emergency response service facilitates the safe return of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia who wander or have a medical emergency. “
  • Medical ID bracelets have a person’s diagnosis and a 24-hour hotline number inscribed on the bracelet. Such a bracelet can be helpful if your loved one is disoriented and gets lost or has an accident outside of the home.
  • Medical ID on smartphones or tablets have a person’s diagnosis and other health information you include on the application. You can usually enter the information on an included health application on the phone and if an emergency occurs, you don’t need to the person’s pass-code to open the phone and can access the health information you included on the application.

Costs

Although many options are available, find out what insurance might pay for devices like hearing aids and glasses. More technology usually means greater cost. Also, more complicated technology may stress the care receiver. However, many older adults welcome the challenge of learning newer devices and welcome the technology. Everyone is different. You may want to thinking creatively. Could a family member let your care receiver have their older smartphone, tablet, or computer? 

State and local programs may also offer assistance and funding for telecommunication access programs. Veterans may have service-connected needs. Contact 211 and local area agencies on aging. If the individual believes hearing impairment may be service connected, contact the closest regional Veteran location.

In summary, technology now provides ways for older adults to offset many of the common losses of aging. Care receivers have many options. Identifying the problems, researching options, and helping older adults adjust to devices and other aids may help the family caregiver’s role more manageable.

Sources – identified in the links in this document. Edited by Zanda Hilger.


We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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