Helping Seniors Get Over the Fear of Assistive Technology

For most seniors, the thought of moving into a nursing home causes great anxiety. Often, people make premature decisions regarding institutionalization because they are not fully aware of the technology or support services available to help them remain at home for a longer period of time.

This issue is gaining national prominence as the notion of aging in place—growing older without having to change residences to secure necessary services—takes hold. According to a recent AARP poll, nearly 90 percent of seniors older than 60 want to “live out their lives in familiar surroundings.” It is important when discussing aging in place with seniors to incorporate assistive technology into the conversation.

Assistive technology can help with day-to-day activities, but for many seniors the prospect of using technology can provoke reactions ranging from denial (I don’t need that!) to a fear of being overwhelmed (I won’t know how to use it!).

While the term “assistive technology” sounds intimidating, it simply refers to equipment that helps people cope with any number of disabilities. Everyday items like eyeglasses, hearing aids, crutches or wheelchairs and plastic pill organizers are all assistive technologies. Other assistive technologies can include things like reachers, grip bars for the tub and shower or emergency response systems—the list is endless!

There are a number of technologies available to help seniors remain in their own home longer. Some examples follow, but a professional evaluation is important to identify the right combination of services and technology.

Home Modification
A modification to the home may allow a senior to remain independent. Stair glides help those who no longer climb stairs reach the upper and lower levels of their home, and ramps allow for ease of entry, especially for those in wheelchairs. Other structural modifications, such as widened doorways and lowered kitchen cabinets, sinks and counters, can increase accessibility and quality of life.

Assistive Devices
Assistive technologies range from low-tech devices to more complex electronics. Simple solutions include grabbers to reach objects on high shelves, easy-to-grip kitchen utensils, long shoehorns, shower seats, tub benches and raised toilet seats. Complex electronic devices include voice- or switch-activated environmental control systems, which operate appliances, lights or televisions.

Personal Emergency Response Systems
At the touch of a button worn on the wrist or around the neck, a personal emergency response system puts the senior in direct contact with an operator at a central station who can summon medical assistance. The devices are waterproof and can be worn in the tub or shower, two areas where falls often occur.

So remember these key points to stress to seniors when discussing assistive technology:
• Assistive technology is not necessarily complex or electronic in nature.
• Technology can help people with disabilities engage in everyday activities with a reduced dependence upon others.
• Some technology can help you remain in your home.

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