March 11th, 2011 at 3:06 am
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Meaningful visits and technology

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

It is not only the younger population using technology. There are an increasing number of older adults who use cell phones and have home computers. When an older adult has difficulties with vision, hearing, memory, or speech, those challenges may interfere with that person’s ability to keep involved at the same level. If there are some coordination or mobility limitations, additional obstacles are possible.

With normal aging comes some increased difficulty learning new information and a need for additional processing time. Several of my clients diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease had a cell phone but when they replaced it with a newer version, they stopped using them. We worked together so they could have them for use in an emergency situation. Families are often unaware of how to modify the process or how to explain it at the correct level. Since ongoing practice and repetition can be effective, a person with a large dose of patience and some understanding of how to simplify the process can be very helpful.

One gentleman went to the movies with his wife frequently. The problem was that if he had to go to the bathroom during the movie she had to leave with him and wait outside so that she could get him back to the right theater. He found the signs confusing so giving him a piece of paper with the name of the movie did not always work. With a lot of practice and instruction, he learned how to use the cell phone. In evaluating the situation, I decided that the best solution was to set up the cell phone ahead of time. Since he could not scroll down to find her cell phone number or dial it even if it was written out for him, she had to use his phone to call her phone prior to the movie. Since her phone number was the one most recently called number, all he had to do was hit the call button and the first number. His wife’s phone was set to vibrate and she knew he was unsure which theater they were in. I used the red fingernail polish trick for the only button he had to press and this worked for them for almost year.

A similar modification was made for a couple who were taking a cruise. The wife with mild dementia had a cell phone and if she did not meet them when she was supposed to, she could call them or they could call her.
She did better with familiar environments but the cruise had too much activity and was a totally new experience for her.

With more than 4 decades as a speech-language pathologist, it has been exciting to see the advent of new technology available for those with communication deficits. Currently my caseload includes more people over the age of 75 than under that age. Some of these people are still interested in using their computers and recently I have had several patients where the focus of therapy has been how to create simplified instructions so a person can play their computer games or check and send emails. For those with expertise in those areas, a visit could center on helping that older adult problem solve any technology glitches or assist them with trying other options. Keeping an older adult connected with friends and family can significantly add to that person’s quality of life. For additional suggestions, refer to Creating Time Well Spent: Enhancing Visits with Older Adults.

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” Saint Augustine

Posted in Caregiving, Dementia, Support, Technology | No Comments »

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