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Apply Technology To Reduce Social Isolation - Part II

by Brandee Cowley, RN BSN, Apostolic Christian Skylines Home Care Services

This month we continue our exploration of technologies that, when used appropriately, can reduce the social isolation of older adults. Social isolation is not a distant challenge. It exists among the elderly today, diminishing the quality of life and shortening lives. While there is no perfect substitute for being there, when geography or circumstance mean you cannot be physically present with an older parent, friend, or relative as often as you would like, the right technology may be the way to bridge the gap.

 

Tablets Designed for Seniors

If your mom is completely unfamiliar with technology and has never used a computer, a tablet designed for seniors may be the answer. The GrandPad is an example. It is a seven-inch touchscreen Android tablet that looks like a traditional tablet, but is designed for the technology-challenged senior, ages 75 and older. It works anywhere within the Verizon network - home Wi-Fi is not necessary.

The GrandPad provides a simplified menu with large icons and text and a reduced set of features. The user can make phone calls and video calls, send voice emails, view photos and videos, listen to personalized music, check the weather, play games and more. Family members can send photos and make video calls to her from Android and Apple phones and tablets with a free companion app. Web browsing is not supported, which prevents exposure to the dangers of the Internet.

A family administrator uses a web portal or a smartphone app to manage content, connections and other capabilities. GrandPad also has a “Help” button that offers 24/7 phone/tablet remote assistance on any facet of her tablet.

The GrandPad provides a closed, safe communication environment for an older adult who is not computer savvy and unaware of the risks associated with the Internet. Go to www.grandpad.net for more information and pricing information.

Voice Activated Technologies

We briefly wrote about smart speakers last month, and as an in home technology that is coming on strong, more is warranted. Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Google Home and Apple’s Siri are three well-known widely accepted speech-driven services. All are proprietary and are delivered through a variety of devices marketed by the vendors. We’ll dig further into Alexa in this article.

Commands to the Alexa service are known as skills; think of them as equivalent to a smartphone app. They run the gamut from playing songs to raising the temperature on your home thermostat. Literally thousands are available, although some are not “5-star.” Some require hardware in addition to the speaker. All Alexa Skills are free, though some require a subscription service to operate properly. Skills are managed with the free Alexa smartphone app.

Areas for which skills are available include music, books and podcasts; educational and reference material; games; health and wellness; ambient noise (rain sounds, ocean sounds, etc.); financial topics; shopping; and smart home, which may require additional hardware.

 Examples of skills that can help seniors stay connected to their community and family include:

Alexa, what's the weather?  returns current conditions in their area. Alexa, what’s the weather in [city name]? returns conditions in the named city – perhaps one where family or friends live.

Alexa, what's my Flash Briefing?  plays news updates from each active Flash Briefing provider. To advance to the next source simply say Alexa, skip.

Alexa, Ask My Buddy: If they are having a medical issue or other emergency and can't get to their phone, this skill will alert one or more predesignated contacts. A fully-configured and linked Ask My Buddy account is required.

Alexa, play music by [artist name]: Random songs will be played by the respective artist or group. Listening to music and to the radio is a popular use of the service.

A cautionary note: While many capabilities are free, some require a paid subscription to be connected to the Amazon Echo account.

A great reference for getting started with Alexa is at amazon.com; search for “alexa.”

The Bottom Line

A factor common to the successful use of in home products and services is the involvement and assistance of a “tech buddy.” While some effort and patience may be required, the payoff is well worth it. This person can normally operate remotely.

For those separated from aging parents by geography or circumstance, a licensed home care agency can also help to maintain the person-to-person connection with their parents while providing services to support healthy, safe and successful aging in place.


AC Skylines Home Care provides in–home care and nursing services. For more information and a no–charge consultation, call AC Skylines Home Care Services at (309) 689–5343 or send email to homecare@acskylines.org. Visit www.acskylineshomecare.org or Facebook.com/ACskylinesHomeCare.

Apostolic Christian Skylines’ continuing care retirement community offers senior living options ranging from independent living to skilled nursing care. For more information, call Apostolic Christian Skylines at (309) 683-2500 or send email to info@acskylines.org. Visit www.acskylines.org or Facebook.com/acskylines.


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