Expert Interview Series: Charles Lowe of About Technology for Caregivers of the Elderly

Charles Lowe is the Managing Director of the Digital Health & Care Alliance, where he ensures that the voice of digital health SMEs and startups is heard loud and clear in government and health care organizations. Charles sat down with us to tell us about the advantages of technology in caring for the elderly.

Do mainstream technological advancements like smartphones, mobile computing, and the Internet of Things have a significant impact on the lives of senior citizens? Or are these advancements just seen as “gadgets” and are not appealing or helpful to the elderly?

Mainstream technological advancements do have a significant impact on older people when they are used effectively. However, the marketing for many of these devices – especially wearables that measure activity and related parameters – is aimed far too much at young people; so older people are not encouraged enough to use them. This is a huge shame, as seniors benefit far more from these devices because inactivity in seniors results in rapid loss of muscle bulk and fitness, thereby making incentives to keep active particularly important.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing elderly individuals who want to remain in their homes as they age?

Let’s be clear: even you ask a large audience who would rather go into a care home than stay in their own home, you’d be hard put to see a single hand go up. Almost no one wants to go into care unless they have to. The challenges depend very much on circumstances; everyone is different. For example, a hospitalization, or even a severe cold or flu, can give rise to subsequent mobility problems.

For those who are just beginning to experience the onset of dementia, it is particularly important to avoid any hospitalization or time away from home, as minds can become confused which results in poor re-adaption when the person remains home. Therefore, telehealth is particularly beneficial for such people, which enables greater care within the community.

Another challenge is for caregivers of those with dementia. Here, technology can provide a vital role to reduce the worry that such caregivers have by letting them know the location of the person they care for if they have got lost or gone wandering.

When some people see “elder care” and “technology” in the same sentence, they first think of medical alert bracelets or similar devices. How else is technology improving the quality of life for senior citizens living in their homes?

Increasingly. sensing devices are standalone and rely less on the bracelet or pendant alert. The most beneficial by far, especially for vulnerable older people, is the networked smoke detector that can call the emergency services the moment smoke is detected and save many lives. A particularly interesting new arrival shortly will be Amazon’s Echo, which features excellent voice recognition and good sensor connectivity. It should be able to add significant functionality to telecare systems, as well as reduce their cost.

Telehealth – or regularly measuring vital signs – offers the opportunity to predict problems and alert doctors to intervene before patients have to go into hospital – even a simple phone call or Skype call can avoid a trip to the germ-infested waiting room in favor of an appointment online with your GP.

Are there any technological advancements that provide assistance for the caregivers of elderly adults?

Carers UK provides an excellent app called Jointly that helps build a care network around an older person, so people can share observations and share care, which makes the burden much lighter.

Companies like Speakset and Red Embedded make set-top boxes that are easily connected to television sets and instantly convert the television sets into video conferencing units. As a result, nurses and GPs can provide care remotely, avoiding the need for older people to go to a hospital, reducing the need for house visits, and ensuring better care.

For people who are trying to decide whether to allow their elderly loved ones to age at home or to move them into an assisted living facility, what advice would you offer?

Encourage your elderly loved ones to invest in and learn how to use the technology best while their minds are still flexible and adaptable so that as they age, they will already instinctively understand the technology. Survey after survey shows that people put off preparing for old age until it is too late.

Make sure they have a flexible open systems solution that can be built on. If possible, try to avoid proprietary systems because the cost of additions to or replacements for these tends to be much higher, and there is no certainty that they will be maintained by the sole provider.

Don’t forget that you will also need someone to receive alarm calls 24/7, so be sure to engage an appropriate monitoring service. After all, you’d never forgive yourself if their smoke detector alerted your mobile just after your mobile’s battery had died.

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