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Tech solutions that overwhelm the problem

When you read about tech and older adults, ask if it is appropriate to the task. Does it fit the problem being addressed? Do caregiving robots make sense? Is the cost such that everyone except the buyers would raise their eyebrows? Everyone admires a pioneer, the organization that will respond to the idea and the sales pitch for putting a few $6000 robots into the homes of children recovering from surgery, for example, so that the children won’t have to come to the hospital for the doctor to see how their recovery is progressing. Apparently no one thought to give the family a Netbook with camera, which would accomplish the same video viewing purpose – for $250.

For a dementia patient, hand them a pricy robotic seal? The $6000 Paro therapy seal is supposed to alleviate loneliness among institutionalized elderly with dementia. We are so lucky, now it has now being brought into the US into some nursing homes. And it's good news, I guess, that it is now down to $5000.  Likely too, that hospitals or nursing homes foot the bill, no doubt allocated to some special grant-funded corner of the budget for experimental therapies. A stuffed animal cat or dog with a good face and soft fur can be amazingly intriguing for $20. Visit a memory care unit – see for yourself.

It's not just robots – well-meaning tech purchases can be mismatches to problems.  We are at a stage where devices are evolving so quickly – what would seemed like a good investment last year is eclipsed by devices that are cheaper, faster, smaller, lighter, easier to set up.  Were the Virtual Senior Center to be launched this year, for example, the price of today’s refurbished laptop enabling a homebound senior to link into another location has dropped down below $150 (with a $30/month 2-year data plan) for the senior. And even a refurbished HP TouchSmart can now be bought for less than $500. 

Develop a recycle-to-next-group plan when buying tech for senior organizations. Today, at the pace at which tech prices are dropping, if for whatever reason one must purchase new at top dollar versus lease, why not buy with a recycle-to-next-group plan from the start?  Your organization acquires PCs (or tablets or MACs) for a common area within a CCRC.  At the same time, identify the next group – maybe the local senior center training room, maybe a community center -- that will buy them from you at a discount that represents their depreciated value.  Even better, community service organizations don't have to be first in the chain.  They can acquire tech from law or investment firms or other organizations that turn technology very quickly and might gain a tax benefit from a donation.











Laurie this blog magnifies a big issue within long-term care, return on investment. Operators of residential care and adult day care must have very clear ROI. While a technology like a robotic seal can have measurable impact, it does not remove the need for full time staff, such as the activity director or recreation therapists. So your fixed costs do not go away and lately your reimbursement revenue is shrinking (thus magnifying your expenses).

I keep hearing from families who bought Grandma a new cell phone, a new microwave, a new dishwasher, etc. - and she won't use it. People forget sometimes that when short-term memory is impaired, learning anything new becomes very difficult. Short-term memory is the gateway to long-term memory (which is learning). So when memory is diminished, learning anything new - like where the power switch is - becomes extremely hard. It may take someone else one repetition to remember how to turn it on, but it may take Grandma 20 or 30 repetitions. So before buying something new for a memory-impaired elder to use, we should ask "How many steps, clicks, buttons, icons, menus, and functions will she have to learn?" Multiple that by 20 repetitions, and you can see why she gave up on the new gizmo.

I get many inquiries about the Memo tablet we developed for memory-challenged elders: will it do video chat? can it do email? does it have games? Those were tough design choices. We decided to stick with the basic function of providing needed information for the person without making them learn something new. It just sits there on the table, plugged in and running, displaying information all day long. There are a few enriching features the family can add if and when Grandma can learn a simple touchscreen navigation to the weather, for example, and back again. But simplicity makes it usable by many elders with early-stage dementias or mild cognitive impairment, as well as keeping the cost down.

Merilee Griffin
President, www.memotouch.com

A very interesting piece and one which appears to be a Trans-Atlantic issue. We in the UK have companies that show us their latest piece of 'wonderland' and some of us purchase them; believing the sales staff all the way to the bank. Sensors that add on to our community alarm service (PERS) can cost our local authority (social services usually) around £80 ($122)for a flood detector - a device which alerts if water touches it. Our alternatives include a Magiplug which stops a bath from overflowing in the first place - cost = £6 ($9). This also alleviates the risk of the person with memory impairment from slipping on the bathroom floor because it is wet - and we've just alerted them to the fact it is wet and probably getting wetter. Always an option and usually it is cheaper and does a better job.


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