You are a caregiver to your parent, but you live 4 hours away and can't be there to help with everyday activities. Technology can help, but only if you and your parent(s) are able to understand and use it effectively.
Each year in Las Vegas the Consumer Electronics Show offers new and innovative technology products. There is no doubt that from wearable medical technology, to smart homes and smart fabrics, virtual reality and robots, the wares that are on display at this trade show are dazzling. Many of these technologies bring benefits to older Americans, particularly those who are aging in place. However, technology is only as good as the user that operates it, and if a senior user has trouble integrating technology into their lifestyle, it can become a source of frustration rather than a solution to life's challenges.
While voice activation and recognition would appear to be the solution to operational expertise for smart personal assistants, self-driving cars and more, there is anecdotal evidence that suggests when using these products elderly persons experience moderate to severe problems with their voices. These issues include things like sore throats, hoarseness, and even complete loss of voice. The aging senior may be frailer than their younger counterparts and can experience technological failure if their voice is going to be their shepherd while using voice-activated systems. Even seniors with a robust, healthy speaking voice can run into problems because of regional accents and intonations.
Continuous product refinements, upgrades and new versions of technology create a lifelong educational process for seniors. Who will educate them about new technology features? Who will provide the expertise to integrate software updates and be sure there is frictionless functioning in a senior's smart home? The answer is most likely a younger family member who maintains their own continuous technology updates and upgrades to newer and more innovative products.
If that family member is you, there are some takeaways about dealing with an older family member with regards to technology and its use. The first is, even if they do not say it, they want and need your help. Technology can be very frustrating for seniors so you must keep a calm and relaxed demeanor as you remember to repeat key concepts. Start with small amounts of information in order to not overwhelm their learning process. Give the larger overview at first and then break the instructions into subsets over time. Always start a learning session with a review of what had been explained in your last meeting together. A small flow chart with key concepts will help reinforce their learning.
Be sure to purchase technology that is designed with the senior user in mind and slowly teach so that they have time to process what you are saying. Pausing between steps and then repeating from the beginning of a process helps to reinforce learning through repetition. Also, stop and ask your senior if they are following along well or if you are moving too quickly. Encourage them to ask questions. Don't just teach, let them interact and drive the product. It is essential that a senior tech user fully engages with the product they are learning. While it may be tempting to help them by finishing up a task, it is better to let your family member struggle a bit and complete the execution on their own. Hands on learning is a better teacher than abstract instructions.
Stay patient and positive! Remember that technology can be daunting to learn for anyone, especially an older adult who may be experiencing cognitive decline.
Smart homes, wearable medical devices, Telehealth, and autonomous cars are invaluable technology breakthroughs that can make an aging American live more successfully at home. There is much to consider about what technology your family senior requires versus desires; what your senior's needs are and their abilities to successfully manage the technologies in your absence.
Caring for a loved one while using technology can play an important role in the overall plan for aging successfully.
If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact our office by calling us at (610) 374-5841.