Caregiver skills: getting smart technology to work for you

Two smiling friends look at a smartphone together
Two smiling friends look at a smartphone together

Off-the-shelf technology includes all devices and technology that anyone can buy directly in a store or online, such as cellphones, tablets, home security cameras and applications or software that can be used on a personal computer or mobile device.

Using off-the-shelf smart technology can alleviate some of the stress associated with caregiving and provide a caregiver with some peace of mind by helping out with managing day to day tasks in their role, caring for a family member, neighbour or friend. These can be selected based on the specific needs of a care recipient and with appropriate knowledge, permission and consent of your care recipient.

While many of these tools are primarily used by caregivers who care for seniors or older adults, you may find some of these useful as a caregiver for any family member, spouse, neighbour or friend you may be caring for.

There are 4 areas in which smart technology can be useful to caregivers:

  1. Safety

There are a wide range of options that can help keep the care recipient safe and assist a caregiver by providing peace of mind around safety concerns. This includes security cameras and home hubs which are more and more popular. These can assist by connecting security cameras directly to your mobile phone, which makes it easier to keep watch on someone you’re caring for, or simply provides peace of mind if you cannot be with your care recipient. Home hubs can be utilized to assist with safety and can be connected with different parts of the household to assist with automating lights and doors, to help keep your care recipient safe, while reducing the risk of falls or wandering off. Some caregivers also use baby monitors, when appropriate, to watch over their care recipient from another room or location. Other technologies exist, such as automatic door locks, doorbell cameras and light switches. Some mobile devices even have the ability to detect falls.

Many caregivers also use tracking devices to ensure the safety of their care recipient; Lifeline Medical Alert and Finding Your Way Ontario are two examples of tracking devices that can support caregivers in reducing the risk of their care recipient going missin

2. Staying independent

Many of the devices mentioned above can assist with providing greater independence to care recipients and supporting them in aging at home or remaining in their communities. Caregivers can use reminders, home hubs and electronic calendars to assist with managing medication and medical appointments, especially for caregivers who may live a distance away.

Many caregivers use automated devices such as automatic medication dispensers, thermostats or light switches which can assist your care recipient in staying independent, which can be a relief for caregivers who would otherwise supporting their care recipient with temperature regulation, medication or other day to day tasks.

There are now applications designed to support those living with autism or dementia; as well as speech-to-text or screen and text/icon enlargement options that can assist your care recipient by enabling them to use mobile devices independently. Shared calendars, shared online grocery lists and devices like the universal remotes are also very useful to assist care recipients in remaining independent.

For more tips in caring for an older adult, visit the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal on healthy aging.

3. Stimulation

Aside from safety and staying independent, stimulation is another area that caregivers may wish to support their care recipient. Tablets, e-books, streaming services like Netflix, Wii console exercises or chair exercises on YouTube can help care recipients remain stimulated on their own.

Although we may think that our care recipient may not approve or feel comfortable with technology, when we explore it with them, we may find that they like it. Many caregivers find that once they assist their care recipient in setting up accounts on social media or adding web pages to their browser bookmarks can help them use it more easily.

Resources like Marlena Books exist to help those with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other cognitive disabilities continue reading.

4. Socialization

Facebook, Facetime, Skype and Zoom are all ways that you and your care recipient can remain in contact across distances, communicate and even spend time together virtually.

Huddol is also a supportive social network that you can share with your care recipient as a way to connect with others online.

Many museum exhibits, musical concerts and other social activities are now taking place online and can support a care recipient in their social life.

Visit AgeWell for more tips on using technology for healthy aging.

About this research

We thank Maurine Parzen RN, PhD and experienced caregiver, for providing this information through our recent webinar on the same topic. In this interactive webinar, Maurine shared her experience with smart technology in these 4 areas.

Maurine led a research team exploring the use of smart technology by caregivers, along with her research team: Sheila O’Keefe-McCarthy, RN, PhD; Jenn Salfi, RN, PhD; and Karyn Taplay, RN, PhD, based out of Brock University. Although their research focused on an older adult living in the community, many of this technology can be used by anyone.

For more in depth information, watch the recording.

Note: this information is provided for educational purposes and is not an endorsement of any company, device or product. We recommend that caregivers do their own research or try things out to determine what is the best fit for them in their caregiving role.

View the full webinar

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