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18 Sep 2019

Digital Caregiving: How This Type Of Care Can Aid Aged Care

Digital Caregiving: How This Type Of Care Can Aid Aged Care

With advancements in technology, the world as we know it has changed significantly. There isn’t one area of life in 2019 that hasn’t been touched by technology - not only do we have access to virtual learning, online banking, and remote business meetings, but virtual caregiving has also become a very real aspect of care within the care sector.

As the use of technology within the caregiving field has become increasingly popular, it is no surprise that in recent years we have seen a number of new digital caregiving solutions arise. What exactly is virtual caregiving? It’s important to be aware that this kind of caring cannot act as a substitute for traditional care - instead it is a way to supplement the in-person caregiving process, improving the quality of care that is on offer.

A key benefit of offering digital caregiving is the fact that it can help to ensure that older people feel more connected, in addition to helping to make them feel safer. Audio and visual communication technology such as FaceTime via iPads, has meant that it’s easier than ever before for older people to stay connected and be more independent. Especially as this new technology has also made the process of seeking healthcare advice simpler and easier with video consultations available with medical professionals available 24/7. Should an emergency occur - such as an older person having a fall, calling for help is easier than ever before.

What is incredible about today’s digital caregiving solutions is the fact that they make it possible for a much larger number of older people to hold onto their independence for longer. Emerging technology is giving older people the ability to remain in their homes for longer, improving aged care in a number of ways. 

More Affordable

One of the major advantages of digital caregiving solutions is affordability. For those who cannot afford to move into assisted living or other group living environments for elders, digital care options may enable families to meet their loved one’s care needs at a fraction of the cost.
A long-term assisted living solution is thus out of reach for many financially strapped seniors, Teel adds, unless they reach a medical crisis and have so little money that they qualify for their state’s Medicaid program.

A new survey found that of those seniors currently needing care, only 5% live in nursing homes and 4% in assisted living facilities. “Ninety-one percent either live on their own or with family or friends, so at-home care solutions that are robust and affordable are essential,” he says.

A Multi-Faceted Approach

Teel’s insights in the eldercare market are informed by his current geriatric primary care practice. He also founded a small network of seven assisted living homes, which has allowed him to gain insights into the care needs of seniors.

To give elders an alternative to moving into assisted living, Teel founded Full Circle America (FCA) more than a decade ago. Based in Nobleboro, Maine, the company offers caregiving support services using a multi-faceted approach that combines in-person care from families and volunteers with the use of technology, social networking, and life management tools.

Teel describes FCA as a five-pronged approach that includes the following:

Personal support, provided by family members, friends, and other individuals in the elder’s life and supplemented by FCA through a network of volunteers. “We’re able to focus on and expand the individual’s circle of care,” Teel explains. “It’s a little more robust than leaning on an adult daughter to care for you.”
Digital technology. Teel points to the growing popularity of easy-to-use devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo Dot that allow seniors to access information, set reminders, play games, and create a smart home to turn off lights, lock doors, and adjust thermostats. “We deploy a number of devices like that and are able to automate part of an elder’s life,” Teel reports.

Vital signs/medication management. Vital signs collection includes weight, blood pressure, pulse, oxygen saturation, and analysis by a health care team, while medication reminders come by phone or programmed pillbox.
Robust telemedicine, which includes video house calls by Skype or another video connection. Through these video interactions, seniors can have contact with physician specialists in the convenience of their home.

Video monitoring, which includes cameras, motion sensors, and door sensors.

FCA gives seniors access to this caregiving support through a choice of several monthly packages, with services including video check-ins four times a day, family access to video/activity data, a 24/7 call center, volunteer/mentoring calls, monthly reports to the family, and a semi-annual quality of life survey. The basic package breaks down to a cost of as little as $8 a day, while a standard package with more frequent calls and geriatric care consultation is about $13 a day. The packages require a one-time purchase of the video monitoring equipment mentioned above.

An optional chronic care management package includes additional services, such as medication reminders, vital signs collection and analysis, assistance with diet and activities to improve chronic disease management, virtual house calls through a video connection, and a caregiver app that provides instance communication between FCA staff and the individual’s personal care team or family.

The Value of Technology

Teel points out how valuable video check-ins can be to seniors living alone. “Video monitoring works best as a supplement to family members who are doing their own check-ins,” he explains. “We do video spot checks every four hours, and we can also monitor someone while a family member goes out to the store. That’s extremely important if someone needs us to keep an eye on their mom who has dementia. It can be a lifesaver.”

While some view technology as remote and impersonal, Teel observes that using digital solutions is a way to bring families closer together. As an example, he points out, “A son who is living 1,000 miles away may feel too far removed to be part of his parent’s caregiving. But through video technology, he can be a more active participant than he ever was before.”

A network of volunteers—many of whom are seniors themselves—provides the personal connection that is vital to those who live alone. The goal is to provide older individuals in the home with better quality of life and purposeful living, and at the same time, offer greater peace of mind to their adult children.
The FCA approach can be deployed to assist families in communities across America, Teel reports. “We very much believe we’ve created something whose time has come and can be a tremendous resource for elders and their families living anywhere.”
 

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