Many senior citizens or people with disabilities or injuries make use of assistive technology-tools, products, or kinds of equipment that help people perform tasks and activities. They can be as simple as a hearing aid, a walker, or a magnifying glass, or as complex as a computer or motor scooter.
More specifically, assistive technology or adaptive devices are services or instruments that help senior citizens or people with disabilities perform the activities they used to perform but must now perform differently. Anything that helps the elderly continue to do daily activities in the context of in home care is considered assistive technology.
Assistive Technology Options and Devices
Many kinds of disabilities exist, so many kinds of assistive technology have been created to help people overcome a great range of disabilities. Some kinds of assistive technology are described below:
- Adaptive switches. These are modified switches that senior citizens can use to adjust devices like air conditioners, power wheelchairs, etc. by using the tongue or voice.
- Communication equipment. This is anything that helps someone send and receive messages, such as a telephone amplifier.
- Computer access. This is special software that helps senior citizens access the Internet or basic hardware like a modified mouse or keyboard to make the computer more user-friendly.
- Education. This category includes audio books, Braille writing tools, and resources for people to get additional vocational training.
- Home modifications. This can include some remodeling to overcome physical barriers and live more comfortably. An example is constructing a ramp to allow wheelchair access.
- Tools for independent living. This is anything that allows senior citizens to enjoy daily life without additional assistance. An example is a handicapped-accessible bathroom with grab bars in the bathtub.
- Job-related items. This is any process or device that facilitates your job. This could include a special type of chair or pillow if you work at a desk or a back brace if you perform physical labor.
- Mobility aids. This is any device that allows a senior citizen to move around more easily, including a power wheelchair, a wheelchair lift, or a stair elevator.
- Orthotic or prosthetic equipment. This is a tool that compensates for a missing or disabled body part. This could include shoe inserts for someone with fallen arches or an artificial arm for someone who has undergone an amputation.
- Recreational assistance. This is a method or device that enables people with disabilities to enjoy fun activities. A couple examples are swimming lessons from recreational therapists and specially made skis for senior citizens who have lost a limb.
- Seating aids. This is a modification to a chair, wheelchair, or motor scooter that helps someone remain upright, move up and down without assistance, or decrease the amount of pressure on the skin. This could be as simple as an extra pillow or as complex as a motorized seat.
- Sensory enhancements. These are devices that help people who are partially blind or deaf to participate in more activities. This could include a caption option on a television for a senior citizen who is hard of hearing.
- Therapy. This could include equipment or processes that encourage and work toward recovery after an illness or injury. This may involve both services and technology, like having a physical therapist use a specialized massage unit to restore a more complete range of motion in stiff muscles.
- Transportation assistance. This category includes devices for senior citizens that facilitate getting into and out of vehicles and driving safely, including adjustable mirrors, seats, and steering wheels. Drive-up windows at the department of motor vehicles that allow the elderly to maintain and register their vehicles are also included.
Now that you know what falls into the category of assistive technology, you may be wondering what the benefits are. For starters, many senior citizens view assistive technology as a way to live independently without worrying about having long-term elder care or living in a nursing home. It allows in home care to be conducted in areas of living such as bathing and going to the bathroom.
Studies show that the majority of senior citizens who use methods of assistive technology have reduced their dependence on others, including paid assistance. Families may need to make monthly payments for this kind of equipment, but the costs are generally less than those associated with in home care or nursing homes. This means that assistive technology can reduce the cost of elder care for senior citizens and their families.
Assistive Technology Needs Assessment in the Elderly
Is assistive technology right for you? Planning and assessment are important parts of deciding whether to use assistive technology since it can interfere with your current services or the way in which those services are provided.
This assessment is most thorough when it involves many people within your spectrum of support. For instance, if you have trouble communicating or are hard of hearing, you may wish to consult with your doctor, an audiology specialist, a speech-language therapist, or other elder care provider to identify your specific problem and determine the plan that will best address your needs. If assistive technology is a part of this plan, your team can help decide which devices are appropriate for you, choosing the most effective tools at the lowest cost. Training to use the devices chosen may also be included in your plan.
A case study shows the benefits of conducting a needs assessment and working with a team in terms of improving the quality of life of an elderly woman:
A team worked together to help Christina find and buy a hearing aid that allowed her to hear well again. She could watch television again with the help of special magnification equipment and a telecaption decoder. More assistive technology allowed her to talk on the phone and use the computer like she used to. When combined with her hearing aid, assistive technology improved the quality and ease of Christina's life.
When you're considering assistive technology, it's helpful to look at both simple and complex solutions to find the one that's best for you over a range of time. Complex, high-tech solutions may be more expensive, but they're usually more adaptable if your needs change over time. Simple, low-tech solutions may be cheaper in the short-run, but they aren't as adaptable. Before purchasing any expensive assistive technology, make sure it can be upgraded to change with your needs and upgraded as improvements are designed. Here are some questions to ask when considering assistive technology:
- Which tasks do you need help with, and how frequently do you need help?
- Which types of assistive technology will enable you to be most independent?
- Is there a more advanced device that addresses more than one of your needs?
- Does the manufacturer have a preview policy so you can try out the equipment and return it for credit if it isn't what you need?
- How do you expect your needs to change over the next six months? the next six years or longer?
- Is the equipment up-to-date? Will it likely be off the market in the near future?
- Which kinds of assistive technology are available that meet your needs?
- Which types of assistive technology have you used before, and how did those devices work?
- Will you always need help with a certain task, and can the device be adjusted to fit your needs as your condition changes?
Costs and Payment Options for Assistive Technology
Another important aspect of deciding whether you'd like to use assistive technology is cost and financing. Currently, no single private insurance plan or public program will cover the entire cost of assistive technology under any circumstances, but Medicare Part B can cover up to 80 percent of the cost of equipment that falls under the category of "durable medical equipment." This includes devices that are "primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose, and generally are not useful to a person in the absence of illness or injury."
Some state-run Medicaid programs also cover some assistive technology. This may help you, but it will not cover the entire cost of buying an expensive device like a power wheelchair.
If you're a senior citizen who is eligible for veterans' benefits, you may also want to explore the possibility of financial assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). This agency has an existing structure to pay for the large volume of devices it purchases, and it invests in training people to operate assistive technology.
Other options to pay for assistive technology are private health insurance and paying with your own funds. Paying out-of-pocket is generally a viable option for simple items like modified eating utensils, but most senior citizens need assistance in paying for more complex devices. Another option is finding discounts, grants, or rebates from not-for-profit organizations or companies that want you to try a certain product that you might not otherwise consider. If you're looking into this option, you may want to be careful-businesses with commercial interests have the potential to be fraudulent.
Since private health insurance does not cover the entire cost of this equipment, you may want to look into subsidy programs, which can provide some kinds of assistive technology at a reduced cost or for free.