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Caregiving in a Digital World December 9, 2012

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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Tablets: Just talk your way over to a holiday goose.

With the holiday season in full swing I am receiving enough sales and gift catalogs to fill the Library of Congress. Even Twitter is reaching out to me to buy something. I saw a tweet the other day that said “jeans that tweet.” What?  I couldn’t resist. So I clicked on the link which took me to CIO magazine’s 10 Twitter-Inspired Gift Ideas for the Holiday. Some of the items you can get are things like a Twitter Fail Whale Mug (you have to use Twitter to come even close to understanding that one- but it’s cute), or a “Stop Following Me” license plate. Then, of course, there are the Tweeting Jeans. What the jeans do is monitor your mood and tweet it out via your Twitter account to all your followers. I guess my followers might get a tweet right now that says, “IJ’ is dumbfounded and is in a snarky mood.”  So watch out.

You have to hand it to all the 5 hr energy fueled entrepreneurs out there. As the Cable Guy says in a recent commercial these folks are inventing things we “didn’t even know we needed.” But as one who has always felt comfortable and fluid around technology, I say go for it. As a matter of fact, while we have such new, great technology infiltrating our lives we need to be looking more carefully how to leverage it into the field of caregiving.

When K was winding down and losing energy she was still able to read, but a trip to the book store was a bit much.  Just getting to the computer in her office was becoming too hard for her, so I went out and bought a Galaxy Tab, Samsung’s version of the iPad. It was great for her. She was downloading books and found them very easy to read on the tablet. Right from the comfort of bed or the couch she had access to thousands of books and periodicals, photos, music and so on. The G-Tab has a voice recognition feature as well, so if she wanted to look something up on the browser she just needed to speak to it. For instance if I tell the Tab,  “I want to buy a goose for Christmas” it takes me right to Sassafras Valley Farms who’ll ship out a free range, all natural frozen goose just in time for the holidays. It’s amazingly accurate, fast and no typing is necessary.

When things got worse for K it was hard for her to get out of bed and at times she’d exhaust herself calling for me to come help. Since I was on the other side of the house in my office I couldn’t hear anything. This was frustrating so I went and got a walkie talkie. That was a big waste of money. It was a decent set but you needed the strength of Thor to press the talk button. Also, on occasion someone would find our frequency and start talking through her handset. She’d be laying peacefully in bed and all of a sudden a scratchy loud voice would appear from some truck driver, scaring the hell out of her. A baby monitor was a better idea but K would move from the bedroom to the living room so I figured we needed something portable. Anyway, that was one thing I didn’t get quite right.  I should have gone for the baby monitor.

These days baby monitors are pretty sophisticated and come with an entire suite of features including webcam with infrared so you can see what’s going on in the dark. You can even get them with temperature and humidity readings. Some of the interesting ones are Withings Smart Baby Monitor, BabyPing, Izon and Foscam. I could have used any of these and it would have been a big help, so long I was in the house.

Another way I could have kept an eye on her was with a simple webcam and microphone set up from one of our several computers. Many households have more than one computer these days and one can be used to keep an eye on your loved one. By staying connected to a service like Skype I could have had a visual as to how she was doing. With a microphone attached we could have communicated both ways by voice as well. With Skype there’s no cost. That may have been a good cost effective solution.

If your loved one is having to take medication at various times of day there are multi-alarm pillboxes. You can keep your pills organized just like other pill boxes but this will sound an alarm to remind you or your loved one that it’s meds time. There’s also a highly rated app for the iPhone called Rxmind Me Prescription which is pretty sophisticated. It will track multiple medications and alert you to take them at the appropriate time. It can also track when you’ve taken your meds and even maintain photos of the particular medication so when the reminder pops up you can see what it looks like. Want to find out about one of the meds? It also comes with the entire FDA Drug Database.

Actually there are quite a number of other iPhone apps good for caregiving and healthcare. I just downloaded one for emergencies. If I were to get, let’s say,  a heart attack or end up in an emergency situation, all I need is about 5 seconds to open the iPhone app and press one big button which will alert  people on my contact list by email with a note I’ve already composed (Help! I’m in trouble!) and will call 911, the police, and the hospital. When my messages and calls go out it also includes a GPS location of where I am. This is great to have if you are alone. It’s called Click2BSure. Of course there is always the Life Alert  (help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!) system which requires professional set up and a monthly subscription fee. But it’s endorsed by C. Everett Koop and although Click2BSure is only $1.99 and has no subscription fee it’s hard to wear an iPhone around your neck while bathing.

Tracking shoes great for Alzheimer patients who disappear.

Tracking shoes. My uncle, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, was lost for days as he wandered Philadelphia. This could have helped his family tremendously.

A wonderful technology supported service  is provided by an organization called Lotsa Helping Hands. This service helps you to organize a group of people to volunteer their time with caregiving. So let’s say you have a friend who’s battling cancer but is alone, you could use this site to organize friends and family to pitch in.  You get a package of tools on their site to help your team of people manage the caregiving. For instance, there’s a “help” calendar which allows members to schedule and sign up for tasks. Your community has a message board to discuss things, a place for well wishers, notice of events, occasions, a place to store vital information and more. All this is a free service! There are some great stories on their website about how it has helped people deal with difficult caregiving situations. There are already 1.2 million community members on the site.

Helping a loved one to move around when they become very weak can be quite a challenge. A couple of years ago Panasonic announced a new product to help. It’s a hospital type bed that becomes a wheelchair and comes with its own hair washing robot. Sounds a bit like something out of the Transformers.  Here’s a blurb from their brochure: “Panasonic Corporation today announced the development of an electric care assistance bed with an integrated wheelchair and a hair-washing robot that drew on the company’s robotics technology. They are designed to help support safe and comfortable living of the elderly and people with limited mobility while reducing the burden of caregivers. “  It sounds interesting but I don’t know if I would have trusted a hair washing robot with taking care of K’s hair. Still, the Japanese seem to be pushing the boundaries on the kind of technology support we can get as we age or need serious care. I’m going to keep a close eye on their work, even though it’s unlikely such products will retail for under $20.

One thing is clear, there are people in the world looking for ways to make caregiving a little less stressful and more efficient through the use of technology. For us non-paid caregivers that is a welcomed thought. I know how easy it is to sneer at technology, but when we are in a caregiving situation having to manage what seems like a million different things, technology may prove to be a way we can more easily juggle it all. We are living at a time when the available technology is still being understood for its capacity to serve us. So, until we lose all electricity I say it is worth looking further in to it. I’d be interested to hear of other technologies you’ve come across that’s helpful. Meanwhile I’m going to try on a pair of those tweeting jeans. Happy Holidays!


1. Laurie Schwartz - December 9, 2012

You are right-on in calling for a transformation in the way we care for the infirm and dying. These “tools” are part of the process of lightening the tasks and bringing quality of care to the person and their family.

ijwoods - December 11, 2012

Thanks for the comment Laurie. There were so many great ideas and tools out there that someone could easily write a book about it.

2. bethhavey - December 10, 2012

Fascinating information and very helpful. Imagination fuels so much in our lives. I often wonder what the original two guys who founded Twitter think of how that idea has expanded and given so many folks jobs, work, and the fulfillment of dreams. Thanks, Beth

ijwoods - December 11, 2012

Hi Beth, I once heard an interview with one of the creators of Twitter. They were considered crazy for coming up with a service that only allowed for 140 characters, but they believed you could change the world with that. It took a while to catch on but now there are 340 million tweets per day!! Even with such usage there are plenty of people who are mystified by it.

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