Carol Bradley Bursack, Published October 05 2008
Technology can’t replace human touchDear Readers: My e-mail box has lately been bombarded with news releases describing new electronic wonders that will help our aging population. Some of these devices sound interesting, and some are just new twists on old ideas.
My neighbor, my uncle and my mother all benefited from wearing a personal alarm, so if there was an emergency when no one was with them, they just had to press a button and a dispatcher would call me to check on the situation. I’m a huge fan of these alarms because they let an elder be independent longer, and let both the caregiver and the care receiver breathe a little easier when the elder is alone.
Another bit of technological wizardry that I like is an e-mail receiver by Presto.com. This allows an elder who doesn’t use e-mail to receive printed e-mails from family and friends. The Web site for this electronic mailbox is www.presto.com.
QuietCare is a system where sensors are placed throughout an elder’s home. These sensors can monitor the elder’s movements so that if something happens that is out of the normal routine, a caregiver can be notified by computer. QuietCare, found at www.quietcare.com, is fairly nonintrusive, so I believe that, though it is expensive, many elders could benefit from such a system in their home.
There are sensors that can be placed in a person’s shoe or clothing if that person is apt to wander off and get lost. This is a great tool when used correctly, but could feel intrusive to someone who is not in danger of wandering off.
Some systems use cameras. I feel an elder who is able to live alone may also be uncomfortable living under the watchful eye of a camera, but that is an individual preference. There are people who feel comforted by such devices, so I’m glad they are available.
I’ve read about “trainable” robots for future elder care. They would roam the house and help the elder perform tasks. My first thought was what on Earth would go through the head of a person who is already frightened by the brain changes of Alzheimer’s or other dementia? A robot running around the apartment? I’m not too sure about that one
I truly am excited about many new developments that will help caregivers with elders alone at home, as well as nursing homes and assisted living centers do a better job. Human eyes can’t be everywhere, and the sooner we can help a senior in trouble, the better the outcome.
What troubles me, however, is that in the excitement of all of this technology, the need for human touch could be underplayed. We can’t afford to let new technical advances that help us keep an eye on our elders encourage less human contact.
We can use technical advances to assist us in our caregiving world. Indeed, the effect will likely be as revolutionary as the news releases say. However, we must be careful not to use technology as a substitute for human care. The care receiver deserves no less than a watchful human eye and the loving touch of a human hand. No technical advance will change the need for that interaction.
Bursack is the author of a support book on family elder care. To submit questions to “Minding Our Elders” and view past columns, go to www.inforum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.