How Can Assistive Technology Help the Elderly

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Providing safety and independence needs to our loved ones becomes a prime concern when they face mobility and other health issues. With advancing age, it could get challenging to walk steadily, get dressed, take medications on time, maintain hygiene, or even read. Often, we are plagued with questions such as ‘How to prevent falls in the elderly?’, ‘How can I make things easier for them? Or, ‘Are my elders safe and secure?’ One can easily resolve these questions on senior mobility and safety issues with the use of assistive devices for the elderly. 

Studies show that the use of assistive devices increased in the early 80s and continued to rise thereon as disabled elders relied heavily on them. Assistive devices helped older adults remain in their community than stay in nursing homes for long.

WHO estimates that currently, there are 1 billion users of assistive technology around the world. This figure is expected to reach 2 billion by 2030. 

What Are Assistive Devices?

According to WHO, “Assistive products are those that maintain or improve an individual’s functioning and independence, thereby promoting their well-being. Assistive technology also enables people to live healthy, productive, independent and dignified lives.”

But why is mobility important for seniors, and how can assistive devices help?

With the help of assistive devices, seniors can enjoy their independence and do not have to refrain from performing any daily activities or engaging in hobbies or interests they enjoy. Moreover, these devices reduce disability, retard functional waning and reduce long-term care.  There are a wide variety of tools and devices that come under the umbrella of assistive devices. Let’s take a look at them.

Types of Assistive Devices and Technologies

Often seniors need help with their routine activities. There are various assistive technology devices for the elderly available today. Adapting to these devices is a great way to combat mobility issues and live independently. 

1. Self-Care Assistive Devices:

Self-care broadly encompasses hygiene, lifestyle, nutrition and self-medication. Devices for self-care usually allow for quicker, safer and more efficient performance of daily activities. A few examples for self-care assistive devices can be:

  • Button-hooks: This tool comes with a hook and wire that allows seniors to button blouses, jackets and pants easily. 
  • Long-handled shoe horns: This self-care assistive device for the elderly helps them put on shoes easily. They reduce the bending and straining activities involved while wearing shoes. 
  • Dressing sticks: This is an essential tool for seniors who have limited use of their arms or hands. The stick assists in pulling up slacks or skirts, putting on shirts and jackets, or pulling up socks. 

  • Leg-lifter straps: The leg-lifter strap increases the leg’s mobility, especially after an injury, surgery or arthritis. It allows the affected leg to maneuver into place easily. 
  • Adaptive utensils: These tools allow seniors to prepare and eat their meals comfortably. Curved utensils, grips and cuffs, weighted utensils, plate guards and many more options are available so that seniors do not lose the joy of preparing meals.  

The above and many other simple tools make daily life tasks much easier for seniors. They reduce dependence and restore confidence in their ability to take care of themselves. 

2. Mobility Assistive Devices

Devices employed to ease the movement of elders are mobile assistive. These devices enhance mobility and empower people to confidently and safely move around by reducing the risk of falls.

  • Canes: Available in standard, offset, and quad types, canes are one of the most common assistive devices for seniors needing help moving around. They improve functional ability and reduce the weight on the lower limbs. 
  • Walkers: Standard, front-wheeled, and four-wheeled walkers are available for seniors with moderate to severe balance issues or lower extremity weakness. They have a wider contact with the ground offering more stability. 
  • Wheelchairs: Wheelchairs enable individuals with physical injuries or lower body disabilities to move freely indoors or outdoors. They come in electric and manual forms, where electric ones are best for people with restricted or limited arm and upper body movement. 
  • Activator Poles: Walking with a pair of poles is also known as urban poling or Nordic walking. Apart from walking aids, poles also provide a form of low-impact exercise. They aid seniors in maintaining balance and at the same time engage their muscles, allowing them to move longer. 
  • Uplift Seat Assists: Often, once seated, seniors find it a task to stand again. These lifting devices help the elderly get up effortlessly from a seated position. One can fit them on top of couches, car seats or regular chairs. Moreover, they are portable.

 
3. Communication Assistive Technologies

Communication assistive devices help seniors see, hear and speak more clearly. With limited means of communication, a senior can begin to feel lonely and depressed. These devices allow the elderly to stay in contact with friends and family and assist in tasks without strenuous movements.  

  • Hearing aids and closed captioning: Hearing aids help people hear better, while closed captioning (or TV ears) allow seniors to watch movies, television programs and other digital media at a louder volume, without causing disturbance to others present in the room. 
  • Voice command devices: These are a blessing for seniors as they can accomplish tasks without moving much. As they eradicate the need to use buttons and switches, you can use voice command devices to control lights, cooling and heating appliances, doors and windows. 
  • Laptops and desktops: With the use of social media on the upward trend, computers are now essential for living and socializing. 75% of people over the age of 65 use the internet regularly.  Additionally, such devices help store information and keep track of events. 
  • Screen readers: Of use to seniors facing vision disabilities, screen readers allow seniors to read the screen display with a speech synthesizer. 

4. Safety Assistive Technologies

Safety assistive devices are most useful for elders with memory, mobility or vision difficulties. The use of these devices escalates safety and reduces accidents. One can install these devices at home or wear them on the body to ensure safety 24/7. 

Step stools: Installed by the bedside or bathtub, step stools ensure you safely get in and out of the bed or bathtub. Some stools, such as the Step2Bed, come with additional features like the motion-sensor light, wide step, handrails and adjustable height. 

Grab bars: Grab bars are most handy for people who face discomfort while standing or walking. You can install these versatile bars in kitchens, bathrooms, stairways or any place where seniors may need support. 

Pill reminders and organizers: Mismanagement of medication can lead to grievous consequences. To help seniors with their medication schedules, smart reminder devices or voice echo reminders ensure that your loved one follows a proper schedule. 

Medical alert systems: If it concerns you that help may not reach a senior on time, then fall detection devices, or wearable call buttons are the answer. It is easy to keep track of a senior with these devices and arrange for medical help at the earliest in case of emergencies. 

Apart from personal safety devices, there are security systems for increased protection against fires, intruders and water overflowing. Some advanced devices can detect gas and water leaks or the emission of smoke. This helps curb a problem before it blows out of proportion. 

Benefits of Assistive Technology for the Elderly

Globally assistive technology devices for the elderly are being adopted.  The devices are user-friendly and provide several benefits, a few of which are listed below: 

  • Assistive devices ensure that older adults can safely age-in-place and delay or prevent the need for long-term care.
  • They maintain or improve the seniors’ functioning.
  • The devices improve quality of life.
  • They enable and improve social involvement.
  • The devices preserve independence and autonomy. 
  • They help maintain dignity and raise self-esteem. 
  • Prevent falls and accidents.
  • Facilitate memory and recall. 
  • Help monitor the safety of the loved one.

If you decide to choose a mobility aid for an older adult, please remember to: 

  • Discuss with your loved ones and know about their preferences and concerns. 
  • Confirm the need and the problem.
  • Contact several professionals and study the products carefully before finalizing on any assistive device for the elderly. 
  • Ask for practical demonstrations before buying or installing.
  • Consult an occupational therapist for assessment and training before taking any decision. 

As the need for assistive devices changes with time, it is imperative to have regular follow-ups. Additionally, you must share information about the assistive technology with the caregiver. It is also beneficial to adopt specialized aids, computer software and hardware that assist in the functional performance of activities and reduce disabilities in performing everyday tasks. 

Advancements in technology ensure a substantial increase of independence, improved quality of life, health support and a boost to your confidence.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you mean by assistive technology for the elderly?

Assistive technology is any service or tool that helps older adults perform activities that may otherwise seem challenging or impossible. This technology makes an essential contribution to the seniors’ safety, security, independence and quality of life. 

What is the difference between assistive technology devices and assistive technology services?

An assistive technology device is any tool, piece of equipment or product that can maintain, improve or increase the functional capabilities of an individual.

On the other hand, assistive technology services, directly assist in selecting, acquiring or using an assistive technology device.

What are some examples of smart technology available to help support older people living in the community?

Automation is being widely accepted as a way of life. Smart technology can control lighting, doors and windows, locks, water outlets, electrical power and stoves. Visual and tactile signaling devices positively affect the confidence of seniors. A few examples of smart technology available to help support older individuals are:
 

Wireless monitoring devices: GPS devices worn on the body provide the wearer’s location, reducing the chances of accidents or getting lost. 


Fall detection watches: Watches are in-built with smart buttons that seniors can pressed in case of a fall or injury. Certain smartwatches may also include medicine reminder alerts. 
 

Smart pills bottles and boxes: These bottles and boxes log the time and dose taken, preventing incidences of over or under-dosing. There are sensor-based medicine dispensers available in the market that sound the alarm when medicines need to be taken and lock thereafter until it is time for the next dose.

Vince Baiera

 

Vince Baiera is the founder of step2health, a mobility aids and wellness company for older adults. He is a former ICU Nurse of the Cleveland Clinic and Duke University Hospital in the Cardiac ICU. With years of working on the frontlines, Vince noticed the struggles of older adults and people with mobility issues that became an impediment for both patients and their caretakers. He then designed and created the patented product, Step2Bed (and its variants) that helps seniors and those with mobility issues safely get in and out of bed. His philosophy concerning aging is to plan ahead and start with simple home and life modifications to avoid being overwhelmed at retirement.

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