Having the right assistive technology allows people who need help getting around, communicating and performing daily tasks to live independently with greater ease.
With so many choices, the Administration on Aging recommends a needs assessment to determine what services and equipment would be most useful.
The assessment has the most value when it is done by a team working with the person who needs assistive technology in the place it will be used.
For example, an elderly person who has trouble communicating or is hard of hearing should consult with his or her doctor, an audiology specialist, a speech-language therapist, and family and friends. Together, these people can identify the problem precisely and determine a course of action to solve the problem.
By performing the needs assessment, defining goals and determining what would help the person communicate more easily in the home, the team can decide what assistive technology tools are appropriate. After that, the team can help select the most effective devices available at the lowest cost. A professional member of the team, like the audiology specialist, can also arrange for any training that the senior and his or her family may require to use the equipment needed.
When considering all the options of assistive technology, it is often useful to look at the issue in terms of high-tech and low-tech solutions. Seniors must also remember to plan ahead and think about how their needs might change over time. High-tech devices tend to be more expensive but may be able to assist with many different needs. Low-tech equipment is usually cheaper but less adaptable for multiple purposes. Before buying any expensive piece of assistive technology, like a computer, be sure to find out if it can be upgraded as improvements are introduced.
Whether you are conducting a needs assessment or trying to make a decision after such an assessment, it is always a good idea to ask the following questions about assistive technology:
- Does a more advanced device meet more than one of my needs?
- Does the manufacturer of the assistive technology have a preview policy that will let me try out a device and return it for credit if it does not work as expected?
- How are my needs likely to change over the next six months? How about over the next six years or longer?
- How up-to-date is this piece of assistive equipment? Is it likely to become obsolete in the immediate future?
- What are the tasks that I need help with, and how often do I need help with these tasks?
- What types of assistive technology are available to meet my needs?
- What, if any, types of assistive technology have I used before, and how did that equipment work?
- What type of assistive technology will give me the greatest personal independence?
- Will I always need help with this task? If so, can I adjust this device and continue to use it as my condition changes?
Adapted from the U.S. Administration on Aging’s guide to assistive technology.