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Caregivers willing to try technology

Family members who care for a relative with dementia say they’d welcome some technological help. Soon, 25 Ohio families will see how well it works to monitor loved ones electronically.

Researchers from Miami’s Scripps Gerontology Center introduced caregivers participating in a study to a monitoring system that included video cameras; sensors to detect noise, motion or water; and immediate notification by e-mail, pager or text messaging.

The caregivers, mostly female, aged 32-79, were receptive to using such a system to help keep watch on their relatives with dementia. "Everyone acknowledges that it will not replace human care, but it can supplement it and maybe give caregivers a break from their constant guard," says Cary S. Kart, senior researcher at Scripps and co-author of the report.

Caregivers’ main concerns for their relatives with dementia include safety, maintaining familiar routines/environments and keeping distant relatives informed. Electronic technologies can become critical components of caregiving, says co-author Jennifer M. Kinney (sociology and gerontology), a Scripps fellow. While many families use low-tech devices (hand rails, extra locks), "more sophisticated technology is relatively underutilized among in-home caregivers," says Kinney.

In a follow-up study beginning this winter, Kart, Kinney and colleagues will install Web-based monitoring systems made by Xanboo Inc. in 25 homes with both caregivers and individuals who receive care, in north central and northwest Ohio. Study expenses, including the cost of equipment and high-speed Internet access for six months, will be covered by grants and the equipment manufacturer.

"Sometimes the caregiver needs to run an errand, or just be outside raking and know that if the person with dementia opens a certain door or turns on an appliance, she would learn immediately and be able to react," says Kinney.

The researchers will observe how easily and efficiently caregivers use the system, what effects it might have on them and their relatives and if it improves communication with long-distance family members.

Elements of home monitoring:

• a video camera that can be activated by motion and record for 12 seconds or that can be turned on live via Web.

• sensors that can detect sound, a door or window opening, temperature, or water, such as a faucet left running.

• a text message sent to the caregiver indicating which sensor had been triggered.

The initial research was funded by the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging Inc., Mansfield, with support from the Ohio Long-Term Care Research Project. The follow-up study is funded by those two groups plus the Area Agency on Aging of Northwestern Ohio Inc.

Date Published: 11/21/2002
Volume: 22   Number: 17

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