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Holidays and aging family members - if you see something, do something

As we celebrate our holidays (or don't) -- maybe surrounded by our aging parents (or maybe not) -- let's give some thought to how older people connect with others, stay safe and well, and keep on contributing to the world around them. Here are five reminders about care about our older relatives, things we can all initiate, that have some technology elements. This advice is, of course, easier to give than it is to follow. And the technology is insufficient without the involvement of people.  But take a  look and observe older family members and think -- is there a way to enhance quality of life?

1. If they are at risk of falling, mitigateYou see an older relative walking shakily with a cane or a walker, standing up with great difficulty, or holding onto chairs or rails while they walk. If your relative is alert and still gets out and about, does she own a cell phone in her pocket? Is he taking his medications at the right time and dose?  Does she stay close to home and therefore has a PERS pendant or wearable fall detection device?  Does it look like a fall risk assessment is appropriate?  If not now, when?

2. If they are isolated, connect themIf you know an older person who is frail and generally isolated, do they have a companion to come and visit? If not can you locate one? Can a video phone be put in their home so that you or other long-distance relatives can call them? We know that access to the Internet can cut depression risk. If they are willing, can a computer with a touch screen and camera be set up with easy to run software? If they are hard of hearing, can they benefit from a hearing-amplified phone? If they are vision-limited, can they benefit from magnifying technology or screen reader (even for a BlackBerry!)?

3. If they want to learn new things, show them. From video games to Wii Bowling, life can be a lot more fun for older people who are trying new games, tools, Internet surfing, and online chatting with friends and family.  Can baby boomers afford to help out with the cost of some of these tools? Maybe siblings and other family members can get together and share the cost.  Don't forget the Kindle and its many competitors (each lower cost than the next) -- for making reading cheaper (per book) and more accessible to older people. And if they want to keep working in retirement, help make it happen -- they will be healthier.

4. If they are driving, help them drive and safelyThere is a lot of hype out there about older drivers and preserving and enhancing skills -- NPR did a nearly endless segment on it the other day. In addition, check out the DriveSmart program and this technology from Mobileye -- reminding drivers who veer from their lane.

5. If they have dementia, find the music, memories, and safetyIt has been studied and proven that music therapy works wonders on people with Alzheimer's -- now there is a program to load iPods with customized music lists from a person's own life period and memories. Even if you don't participate in the IMNF program, find a way to bring more music into the home of a person with dementia. Locate and give tracking technologies, including GPS and cellular tracking phones,  to help keep that person safer living at home.