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Technology Long Distance
By Jennifer Bradley, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 4)

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.

Candid Camera
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 video camera.

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 communication.

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 other’s company.
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.

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