Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer
Technology is continually evolving, improving
and keeping in step with fast-paced Americans.
This is encouraging news for those caring for
loved ones from afar.
Approximately five to seven million people are
long-distance caregivers for their senior
relatives, and experts say the number will
double within 15 years. In a report by Lazelle
E. Benefield and Cornelia Beck at the College of
Nursing, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences
Center, it states that long-distance caregivers
live, on average, 450 miles from their loved one
and travel seven hours to reach them. Amid the
obstacles of distance, which ironically
technology has created, family is still as
important as ever, and technology also is
working to patch the challenge, ensuring a loved
one’s best possible health and home life.
Remember the days of Dad’s good-old “family
meetings”? Nowadays, these family meetings are
taking place with the adult children calling the
sit-down, and an even bigger revolution: by
Family conferences are a vital tool to caring
for an elderly loved one. It doesn’t take much
for a brother or sister to feel out of the loop
and hurt feelings to creep in. Virtual family
meetings help a senior communicate their wishes
as well as maintain as much independence as
possible. To fill this need, numerous companies
have stepped in to facilitate just this type of
Many of these family meetings take place
online. One company offers a product that
includes a maximum of 10 subscriptions for as
little as $1/month per subscriber. The family
members are then connected in a private, secure,
online network and can communicate exclusively
with each other whenever necessary.
Another conferencing option is video-phone
technology which does not require Internet
access, and can be utilized at a loved one’s
home, doctor’s office, with a care manager, etc.
It is versatile, affordable and easy for seniors
unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the Internet.
In addition to meetings, the family dinner
experience has gone digital. Still a prototype,
expected on the market in the next two years,
this technology could allow long-distance loved
ones to share a meal, and even give the senior
some verbal assistance with meal preparation.
The push of a button would notify the
caregiver when his or her loved one is ready to
eat, or prepare food. Cameras even can be
positioned so it seems as if family members are
at a continuous table, sharing a meal and each
Those promoting this technology say that the
health benefits far exceed the social, however.
Research has shown that eating with a family
member, even if an image of them, gives a person
a sense of belonging. This, in turn, helps with
the loneliness and depression this senior
population feels when living, and thus dining,
alone. A virtual family dinner also gives
a caregiver a way to “check in” and observe
firsthand their loved one’s emotional, cognitive
and physical condition.