January 18th, 2011 at 3:12 am
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How do your elders view new technology that monitors their home life?

by Carol Bursack

During my busiest elder care years, I convinced several of my elders to wear personal medial alarms. With personal medical alarms, the person wearing the alarm is in control. If there’s a fall or other emergency, the person pushes a button on the bracelet or necklace style alarm, and help is summoned. Once they agreed to wear the devices, my elders did feel more peace of mind.

The alarms certainly helped me feel better, as I could only be in one place at a time, and I had frail elders, for whom I was the primary contact, in several locations. These days, however, there are many more choices for “monitoring” our elders. Many of these devices are quite intrusive, such as cameras placed around the elder’s house like “nanny-cams,” often used for children.

As a person who is not yet at a point where I feel I need to be monitored (except, perhaps when it comes to spiking my coffee with real whipping cream), I have mixed emotions about many of the monitoring devices now available, but I certainly see the value of the more subtle devices.

A recent story in on nytimes.com titled, Technologies Help Adult Children Monitor Aging Parents, looks into this touchy issue. As expected, the story suggests that many elders balk at the idea of being monitored. Less expected is that for some people, starting early, before they really need monitoring, leads to a less defensive attitude by the elder.

The Times story, written by Hilary Stout, quotes Nancy K Schlossberg, a counseling psychologist and professor at the University of Maryland, as saying, “‘I think the critical question is: Is this something the parent wants?…Big Brother is watching you–there’s something about it that’s very offensive.’”

Stout takes the reader through several scenarios where the parents have agreed, either with good grace or great reluctance, to use some type of technology to monitor their movements. One adult child, who lives a distance away from his parents, readily admits that this monitoring of his parents makes him feel like a better son, since he’s not with them to give hands-on help.

Many people will be able to stay in their homes longer if they have some way that an adult child or other person can be notified should they forget critical medication, get locked out of their home, or take a nasty tumble, so there is definitely a market for these products.

However, I have grave concerns when technology is used to replace human hands and human attention. If a person is getting to a stage where he or she must be monitored constantly, should that person be living alone? I’m delighted to watch technological advances continue to advance in sophistication. Many people will benefit. I would also hope, however, that real human interaction is an active part of the care plan.

I wouldn’t have wanted to do without the medical alarms my loved ones used. The alarms came in handy many times, summoning me to help them when they fell. However, the key here was that my elders’ real needs were seen to by at least one human being. I expand on the idea in an article titled Technology and Elder Care: The Good, the Bad and the Robots? I’m all for technological help, but in my opinion, no piece of technology can replace a warm, loving, human hug.

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