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The Caregiver's Guide to Assistive Technology

How to find the right devices and equipment for someone in your care

By Family Caregiver Alliance | April 21, 2012

Assistive technology is the catch-all term for adaptive tools and services that help people get around, communicate and take care of themselves. Assistive technology can help people live more independently and make a caregiver’s job easier.
 
Products like handrails, timers for medicine and health-alert systems allow people with physical challenges to move safely within their homes and to stay alone for periods of time. Other products allow people to talk with family members via computer or monitor their blood pressure or blood sugar on their own.
 
Finding the Right Equipment for Someone Else

As a caregiver or the person arranging care for someone, it may fall to you to decide which products and services are best and to show the person using them how they operate.

When choosing a service or medical device for someone else, focus on the tasks they want or need to do. Try selecting the simplest product available, use it on a trial basis and ask others with similar disabilities which devices have worked best for them. Be sure to involve the person you are caring for in your decision. The devices you select should be comfortable, attractive and easy to use.

Types of Assistive Technology

There are many types of assistive technology with new products and devices coming onto the market all the time. AbleData, an assistive technology resource firm, tracks almost 40,000 products in 20 categories.

Categories of assistive technology include independent living aids (easy-to-grip silverware, reaching tools, elastic shoelaces and long-handled brushes) and medication aids like pill organizers and timers to remind people to take their medicine.  There are also mobility products (canes, walkers, wheelchairs) and communication devices, like telephones with large buttons and voice-recognition software. Home modification aids include skid-resistant rugs, wheelchair ramps and lever door handles. Similar devices are available to adapt vans and other vehicles.
 
Safety and secrity devices include intercom systems, occupancy monitors that activate when the person using them gets up from a chair or bed and personal emergency response systems that send an alert with the push of a button on a pendant, bracelet or belt.  For those in the early stages of dementia there are memory aids, like jumbo, analog wall clocks and voice-activated phone dialers.

Where to Find Assistive Technology

Pharmacies and specialty stores for medical equipment carry many of these products. There are also online sources for equipment. Working with public agencies, organizations such as AbleData maintain extensive lists of products and manufacturers for a full range of choices.

Paying for Assistive Technology

Assitive technology can be expensive. Typically, products for independent living at home like bath mats and grab bars are not covered by insurance. Medicare, Medicaid, private health insurance plans, private organizations like United Way and Easter Seals and the Department of Veterans Affairs may help with the purchase of certain kinds of aids, especially "durable medical equipment" like wheelchairs and scooters prescribed or deemed to be medically necessary. Every state also has a technology assistance program with information on financial assistance and loan programs.
 
Resources:
Fact sheet: Assistive Technology (Family Caregiver Alliance)
State-by-state Listing of Technology Assistance Projects
AbleData Product Database

Based on an article on assistive technology from the Family Caregiver Alliance.

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