age-related disabilities

Technology and other aids to help people "age in place"

Most people who have a choice prefer to remain in their own homes as they age and require more care.

No one wants to give up autonomy. Nursing facilities are expensive. Remaining in one's home as long as possible can be strategy for preserving one's estate.

Sometimes people with chronic and age-related disabilities become socially isolated when they choose to live independently. When it requires a lot of effort to get out, a person's friendships can shrink to the number of paid professionals who come in to give assistance.

A person's social needs may be better met in a nursing facility or retirement home, which can be akin to living in a college dorm.

But there are an ever growing number of devices -- some inexpensive, some expensive – which can help a person compensate for a loss of vision, hearing, mobility and fine motor skills.

Keys to whether these devices will allow a person to "age in place" often hinges on their mental acuity and willingness to learn new things -- or the acuity of a spouse or loved one sharing the home.

Safety and security

The newest fall detection devices do not require a button to be pushed for help to be summoned. This is an important feature for people with dementia or other cognitive difficulties who may not remember how to operate the technology.

A device called "Be Close" tracks a person's activities throughout the day, producing hard data a loved one or caregiver can monitor to see how many hours the individual is sleeping and whether they are being active enough to maintain good health.

Dementia patients with an inclination to wander can wear an ankle bracelet that electronically transmits their location -- a godsend if they were to become lost.

Environmental Accessibility

Ramps are easier for anyone who needs a mobility device -- even if it's just a cane.

Mini elevators provide accessibility with a smaller footprint, and they're finally becoming portable and more affordable. They must be operated from a concrete pad, however, which may be an issue for landlords.

Stepping over the tub lip -- or swinging one's legs over it from a seated position -- are the most common accident that happens at home. Of course, probability of slip-and-fall accidents increases when people are wet.

Swivel seats with a tracking apparatus that moves the seat to the middle of the tub without shower doors will help, although the legs will still have to be raised over the lift. These seats also do not submerge the person into the water, which can make it difficult to cleanse genitalia.

Tubs with a door remedy the step-over problem, but many people don't like feeling exposed while the water fills and drains.

Health and Wellness

Taking medications can become complex when a person has several prescriptions. There are a variety of medication reminder systems that help dispense pills and make it possible to monitor at a glance what meds were missed. Unfortunately, they are rarely covered by health insurance.

A simple yet effective one is a pillbox in which pills are compartmentalized into morning, noon, evening, and bedtime compartments for up to seven weeks at a time.

Wristwatches can be programmed (probably by a caregiver) to buzz when it's time to take medications. Electronic dispensaries be set to ration medication at the time the pills should be taken. That almost eliminates the prospect of someone becoming confused and overdosing.

Communication and Engagement

Cell phones are a safety feature because a person who remembers to carry it can always call 911. Simple phones with big buttons will be easiest to learn to use.

Many phones have accessibility features like sound amplification and display brightness, but an older person will probably need to be shown them -- and practice using them with a patient teacher -- before feeling confident to use these features on their own.

Pocket devices are available which allow people with hearing loss to hear their televisions without waking their neighbors.

People who are open to learning to use an iPad or other lightweight tablet computer are always glad they did. These devices keep news, information and entertainment within reach. Older readers who can use the reverse pinching gesture to enlarge type usually embrace e-books.

Communications technologies also help people stay in touch with friends and family. Most enjoy using email, Facebook, and video-conferencing applications like Skype -- although they may need help setting it up initially.

Keyboards with bigger buttons in contrasting colors are readily available for people with vision or neurological challenges. A computer mouse with a track ball may be easier for people with compromised fine motor skills to use.

Low-tech assists for independence

* Straps that make it possible to pull up socks without bending all the way over.

* Claw reachers can eliminate the need to stand on chair or climb a ladder.

* Electronic locators that beep to help find misplaced key rings (if left in or near the home).

* Jar openers

* Device mounted above the stove sounds an alert if a burner is left on or some food starts to burn.

* Lighted, hand-held magnifiers are useful for reading labels.

While assistive technology can be expensive there are loaning libraries in many communities.

Disability Network/Lakeshore has a variety of items to loan at it's Holland office. Call 616-396-5326 to find out if we have what you're looking for.  

Books focusing on a disability experience

Summer is prime time for reading, but you don’t have to slip the latest John Grisham or a bodice ripper into your beach bag.

There are a lot of great reads – fiction and nonfiction – about people with chronic or age-related disabilities.

Books help readers gain a sense of themselves and others. Understanding people with different challenges enriches a reader’s life.

I recently met book-lover Hanagarne in the pages of his memoir, The World’s Strongest Librarian.

Josh defies the stereotype of the sternly quiet, bejeweled spectacled, bunhead of a librarian.

He’s a hulking 6-foot-7 and so strong from power kettlebell lifting that he can easily rip the thick Salt Lake City phone book in half.

What makes Josh an improbable librarian is that he himself is “un-shushable.”

Josh has Tourette’s Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder characterized by involuntary physical and vocal tics. My only previous knowledge of Tourette’s came from the TV show “L.A. Law” in which a character with the disorder could not reign in his urge to swear and utter racial slurs.

Tourette’s seemed too bizarre to be true until I read The World’s Strongest Librarian and learned how Josh experiences it.

He’s a good sport about it. (What choice does he have?) He writes about his hooting baby owl sound. The slobbering dog sound. The finishing a round of wind sprints sound. His wind-rustling-through-a ghost town sound. The frog in his throat that triggered persistent throat clearing.

Then comes the sobering realization that Josh’s headfirst dive into strength training is a valiant attempt to master his involuntary tics.

What’s lifting a few hundred pounds to one who has been carrying much heavier impediments since childhood?

With humor and candor, Josh finds ways to break the shackles of other weighty issues: loneliness, geekiness, infertility, an inner spirituality at odds with the theology of the denomination in which everyone he loves remains blissfully affiliated.

This is a warts-and-all story told a guy who defies stereotypes – a power-lifting librarian whose literary crush is Fern, the farm girl who saved Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web.

There are many other good books that provide a window into the experience of living with a disability.

Here are a few novel suggestions that will deepen your understanding of aging or disability.

Comment to add your favorites.

  • Havana Heat by David Brock
  • The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.
  • Where the River Turns to Sky by Gregg Kleiner.
  • Icy Sparks by Gwen Rubio
  • Lottery by Patricia Wood.