How Medical Alert Systems Helped Pioneer the Internet of Things

Wearable, connected devices are the must-have items of 2015. Plus, the soon-to-debut Apple Watch may add even more buzz to the sector. These emerging wearables have social media capability and built-in fitness tracking and health monitoring capabilities.

But Samsung, Apple and the other tech giants are actually late to the party. Seniors have trusted wearable medical alert systems for years, and new medical alert systems have more features than ever.

Let’s look at how medical alerts have changed over the years and see what’s next.

What is a Medical Alert Bracelet?

The medical alert bracelet is a personal emergency response system for seniors and caregivers. You can press a button on your neck or wrist to call for help. The button is always on your person (wearable) so help is just a touch away.

The Medical Alert Bracelet of the Past

The first medical alert bracelet had only one simple function. In 1975, Popular Science magazine featured it as an “emergency dialer”—a machine attached to the (rotary) phone. To call for help, the senior pressed a button on a medallion worn around the neck. When depressed, the button relayed a signal to the machine. Then the machine sent out a single prerecorded message to a predetermined number.

The major drawback to this early system was the single emergency contact number. You had to hope that person was home! The contact knew that there was an emergency. But, they received no details about what was happening. While revolutionary, seniors and caregivers demanded more features and customization.

Today’s Senior Wearables: Fall Detection and Mobile Medical Alerts

Today’s medical alerts are smaller, lighter and more feature-rich than the days of yore. These medical alert systems come pre-programmed for minimal installation and effort on your part. When seniors press their help buttons, they connect with trained emergency operators. The operator dials through a personalized list of your emergency contacts. Your contacts know exactly what’s going on, and help is immediately on the way—no more guessing and no more prerecorded messages.

Also, seniors are no longer tied to their home landline telephone. New mobile medical alerts use GPS to pinpoint location. In-home wireless networks make life-saving monitoring services both accessible and affordable to all. The technology acknowledges the restrictions of everyday homeowners and breaks down those barriers. In the process, this allows for more comprehensive care.

Another key breakthrough, advanced fall detection technology, keeps seniors safer. These medical alerts use sensitive accelerometers to detect slips and falls. When a senior slips, they can get help without pressing the help button at all. Previous help buttons were not nearly as smart. Now the processes are automated to immediately send out a distress call. We all know there are times in your life that prevent you from being autonomous or self-reliant. Today’s technology can rise to the challenge and intervene on your behalf.

The Future of Medical Alert Bracelets: The Internet of Things

Alert bracelet technology has made leaps and bounds, but the basic idea of emergency alarms remains unchanged. So what’s next for the alert bracelet in the Internet of Things era?

The Internet of Things describes how smart devices can communicate both with you and each other. Your refrigerator, washer and drier, your front door… you can communicate with them all via computer or smart phone.

The next medical alert systems won’t require a bracelet or pendant at all—they will be built into our clothes and home fixtures. Your shirt will keep an eye on your heartbeat and call caregivers if you fall. Your slippers will make a distress call when they do not get walked out to check the mail.

Your home, clothes and other technology will work together to keep you safe and healthy. In the era of the Internet of Things, everything is keeping watch, making sure seniors remain safe.

Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Shayne has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a master’s in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.

How to Help a Parent Cope with the Loss of a Spouse

Coping with the loss of a spouse is a devastating challenge; likewise, losing a parent is one of the hardest obstacles many people have to face throughout life. When you’re facing your own tremendous grief over the loss of a parent, how can you possibly provide your surviving parent with the support needed to overcome their grief over losing their beloved partner? It’s a situation faced by many adult children. While there are no easy solutions, there are some valuable tips and strategies you can employ to help ease your parent’s grief while managing your own.

Grief Differs Dramatically From Person to Person

Everyone experiences grief differently. It’s a different grieving process for someone who has lost a spouse versus someone who has lost a parent. Even two people who have lost a spouse may grieve in entirely different ways. Grief, while it may have a predictable series of stages for most people, is a very individualized experience. Grieving the loss of a spouse.

Because grieving can be dramatically different from one person to the next, it’s important to let your grieving parent express her emotions and communicate her needs. One person may merely want to know that family and friends are there to listen and provide a shoulder to lean on, another may be so devastated that she is unable to bring herself to get out of bed for several days following the passing of a spouse.

Help Fill in the Gaps for Everyday Tasks

One of the biggest challenges that come with the death of a spouse is coming to grips with the new reality of everyday life. Not only is there an empty hole in your parent’s heart, but your parent may now be faced with handling everyday tasks once handled by her spouse.

For instance, spouses often divvy up tasks like cooking meals, paying bills, cleaning, and taking care of household maintenance. If the surviving spouse never handled the couple’s finances, suddenly being thrown into tasks once taken care of by a spouse can be overwhelming. Often, adult children are aware of which parent handled what duties generally around the house, so lending a helping hand in these new areas is often much-needed support.

If you’re not able to handle some of these tasks yourself, something as simple as making arrangements for the teenage boy down the street to mow your mother’s grass can ease substantial stress. A more immediate need is handling funeral arrangements, notifying financial and government entities, and taking care of other legalities, which may be too painful for your grieving parent to handle alone. Step in and offer to help or take care of these essentials, in cooperation with siblings and other family members as needed.

What to Do with All This Time?

For surviving spouses who were also serving as primary caregiver to an ailing spouse, the biggest need upon a spouse’s death may be something to keep him or her occupied. Devoting every waking hour to caring for a loved one can be even more emotionally draining when you’re suddenly no longer needed, contributing to incredible feelings of loneliness and loss.

The question of what to do with yourself now that you have hours and hours of free time is not an easy one for a grieving spouse to answer. Look into support groups or local activities that might interest your parent. Reach out to your parent’s friends and ask them to check in from time to time or invite your parent to take a walk, have dinner, or catch a movie. Often, getting out of the home shared with a spouse, where memories are painful reminders of the recent loss, is a welcome distraction. While there is no acceptable standard of how long it should take anyone to grieve the loss of a loved one, particularly a spouse, do watch for signs that your parent is really struggling to overcome her grief and make arrangements for her to talk with a doctor or counselor if you’re concerned.

Don’t Forget to Take Time for Your Own Grieving Process

Maybe you’re the type of person who copes best with grief when you’re busy taking care of someone else. If that’s you, stepping in to help your grieving mom or dad take care of all the necessities and the new reality of day-to-day life is probably an excellent way to keep your mind off of your own grief. But do recognize that you have the right and the need to grieve your own loss, as well.

While the grieving process for losing a parent is different than that of losing a spouse, you may need to take a time-out to reflect on your loss. Giving yourself the opportunity to do so when needed will help you be more supportive to your grieving parent when you are present. So don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Many people want to help friends and family who have just suffered a tremendous loss, but they are fearful of interfering or intruding. When you let loved ones know what they can do to help, they are often happy to have the opportunity to feel – and be – useful.

It’s not easy helping a parent cope with the loss of a spouse, particularly when you are navigating your own grieving process. Watching and listening to learn how your grieving parent is coping with the loss provides valuable clues to how you can be most supportive and helpful. Listen, ask, and help in the ways that your parent most needs. You’ll find that being able to help your surviving parent cope with such a substantial, life-altering loss will help you work through your own grief, as well.

The Last Stop: The Care Center

Bob and I were among the early residents at our continuing care retirement community. The facility opened in July 2008 and we moved into our cottage that October. The Care Center Building, which was close to our cottage, was completed but not ready to be occupied. The opening was scheduled for June 2009. The reason was that we early arrivals were strong and healthy and would have no immediate need for the facility.Some of Margery's friends sitting outside

As time went on, we learned how demanding it was to pass all the Medicare and state licensing requirements that are necessary for such a facility to operate.  Management was pleased that the licensure went as quickly as it did and the Care Center opened on time. Because our CCRC has a type A Life Care Program, full access to the Care Center is available to us when we need it, at no additional cost. Non-CCRC folks older than 62 can apply to live at the Care Center and be accepted as temporary or permanent residents.

Occupancy involves some clever balancing by management in order to have an income flow to help cover expenses and yet save space for the needs of the residents. Now, six years later, there are a few residents who have moved in from the outside but most current Care Center residents have arrived from Independent Living.  As I watch all this happen I continue to wonder where I will fit into this plan.

I have a love/hate relationship with our Care Center. To find out why, read The Last Stop, Part 15: The Care Center.

This post was written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist who lives in a CCRC outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”

Your Community is Sold—Should You Be Concerned?

What most people don’t realize about the senior living industry is its similarity to Monopoly: buying, selling and improving properties is all part of the game to remain profitable while delivering a safe and supportive setting for seniors.

But what happens to the residents and their families who are caught between these business transactions? After a lifetime of home ownership, it might seem unnerving to realize your loved one’s home can be sold so easily. And you will likely fear the worst—beloved staff members losing their jobs or a community change for the worst.

Sold SignWe decided to shed some light on this issue by asking several senior living companies to discuss their approach to purchasing communities and how they work with residents during the transition. What they shared reveals that a management transition can, if handled properly, be a welcome change and provide a better quality of life for your loved one.

Greenfield Senior Living

For Greenfield Senior Living, a Virginia-based senior living provider, a community’s existing culture supersedes other metrics when considering the acquisition of a community. Greenfield is a “customer-centric” company with a focus on culture, says Jonathan Barbieri, vice president of marketing for Greenfield Senior Living. “Can the culture we bring improve, enhance and brighten the community?” With a focus on the senior, Barbieri says, “we want people to say ‘Wow’” after seeing how a Greenfield community treats its residents.

The purchase negotiation determines how soon a Greenfield management team is on site to work with existing staff for the transition. Sometimes Greenfield may not be on site until the actual close, Barbieri says, adding they like to be there as early as able to develop a relationship. Developing this relationship involves introducing the new team to Greenfield’s vision of the industry. “We really want people to walk away from the meeting saying, ‘This group of people cares,’” Barbieri explains.

After meeting with staff, the Greenfield management team meets with the residents and their families. Barbieri says the exact introduction depends on the care levels offered at the community, but it generally includes a presentation of Greenfield’s operating philosophy and a question-and-answer session to create “open and transparent dialogue.”

One question frequently asked is whether there will be staff turnover. Barbieri says Greenfield’s approach is to support the staff because “the last thing you should be doing is turning people over.” Another concern is whether rent will increase, which Barbieri explains is already baked into the acquisition, adding that Greenfield “doesn’t want anyone to leave the community due to a price increase.” Sometimes new leases are issued because some states require issuing a new lease following the purchase of a community, but in those cases, the previous lease is still honored.

As far as community life is concerned, Barbieri says residents should only see improvements after a sale. “We want each community to be its own cruise ship, offering as much as you can possibly offer … by offering more we can engage our residents,” Barbieri says.

“Seniors know what they want,” Barbieri adds. “We get very good feedback about the resource we bring.”

MBK Senior Living

Robin Craig, corporate director of marketing for MBK Senior Living, explains in basic terms her company’s approach after acquiring a new community:  “Add value in the way we manage. … We place a value on creating a comfortable, well maintained contemporary community setting.”

Part of the decision to acquire a new community is based upon whether the culture and management is similar to MBK’s. Craig explains that the management team does due diligence in assessing the community and knowing who is managing the building before a contract is signed. That contract, and/or state regulations, determines whether residents know in advance that their community is being purchased by MBK, and Craig says that former owners may announce the transition before MBK is on site.MBK Senior Living - Logo

Once on site, the first step is making the associates comfortable with MBK’s management because “The associates are the voices the residents hear,” Craig says. “We try to not make changes when coming in.” After associates have been oriented to the new MBK management team, the transition is announced to residents.

Residents can expect to have their questions and concerned listened to and addressed. Craig says they invite family members to attend the presentations and the management team is available for questions. In her experience, families are more concerned about the details of the pricing than learning more about MBK. The company is honest about future rent increases, Craig says, and strives to create a comfortable situation for those discussions. She also assures residents and families that following an MBK acquisition that things are on equal footing or better. “Because we are owner-manager, we feel that is a better scenario for the family.”

One of the changes residents may see right away is more choices for care, and their beloved caregivers will likely be on staff. “As much as we can appropriately keep the associates there, we will,” Craig says. There may also be more food choices and activities, because “typically we don’t take things away.”

For MBK COO Daniel Morgan, communication is crucial to a successful management change. “Change is difficult for people no matter the age,” Morgan said via email. “The key to our success has been to effectively communicate that change is coming, what the change will be, the reason why the change will occur and when the change will occur. … If for any reason we are unable to fulfill any part of what has already been communicated regarding the change, it is important to get back in front of the residents with updates.”

Senior Lifestyle Corporation

Within two months of acquiring a community, the new Senior Lifestyle management team holds a Family Night with residents, their families and staff to share the life story of Senior Lifestyle. But it’s meeting every person that Tim Marzec, vice president of operations-community integration, says residents particularly appreciate. “I just can’t say enough about the reception we [receive], with some residents saying we’re the first person to come and visit us.” The residents “want to know you as a person.”

Among the criteria Senior Lifestyle uses to determine acquiring a community is how it “fits within how our company operates,” Marzec says. In his role, Marzec is charged with integrating the new community’s staff into Senior Lifestyle’s business systems, whether it is navigating the payroll system or who to contact when needing a question answered.

Once Senior LIfestyle receives approval to enter an acquired community, it meets with the employees to discuss the community change, sharing who the company is and what to expect in the coming months, Marzec explains. Once a community is acquired, Marzec says he is among the first of the Senior Lifestyle management team that the staff members meet. Marzec says the first 60 days of a transition are spent simply observing the community, and “we try to be very mindful that it’s a pretty big change [with the community being purchased]”

One of the questions Marzec frequently answers is what will happen to the staff. He says it’s in the company’s best interest to retain good employees, as they are the backbone of any community.

Residents usually don’t see a change until 90 days into Senior Lifestyle’s ownership, at which point, they might see changes in the menu or a reformatting of the activity program. For pricing, the billing statement might look different, and a new residency agreement is updated. “Generally all the pricing stays the same” and care levels remain consistent, though there might be a reassessing of the care plan, Marzec says.

During Marzec’s tenure in this Senior Lifestyle role, “I’ve found in the beginning a lot of people are nervous. … Once they get to you know and … once they see that you’re here to help, I have found the reception warm and welcoming.”

Final Thoughts

If it is news to you that retirement communities are bought and sold so easily, you’re not alone. Craig says that in her experience, residents “think of just that community, not the companies behind it.” And thinking that only large communities are acquired isn’t true. Sometimes, family-owned communities are sold to a larger company, or a community is spun off from a large company to become independently-owned and managed. Further complicating the matter is that sometimes the company that owns a community isn’t the same company that manages it.

So what can you do if your loved one is at a community that is recently purchased? Because contract negotiations are confidential (and if you are in a state that doesn’t require advance notice of a sale), you might not know the community is sold until after the transaction is finalized. Attending the community-wide introduction is important so you can ask questions about what the change in management means for your loved one’s lifestyle. Your state’s laws will determine whether your loved one receives a new lease—if so, you should review it to determine whether the existing lease is being honored or if there is a change in pricing. State regulations often specify that you should receive advance notice of rate increases, and if a community fails to follow that statute, it can be cited.

Written by SeniorHomes.com’s Andrea Watts

Senior Living Companies Spread Their Wings Internationally

It’s no secret that the senior living industry is exploding in the U.S., but U.S.-based senior living operators are now expanding overseas in countries like China. The Seattle Times reports that Seattle-based senior living companies such as Cascade HealSenior living growth in Chinathcare and Merrill Gardens are spreading their wings and opening senior living communities in places like China, where senior living communities like those found in the U.S. are not widespread.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million by 2050, representing the impact of a period of rapid growth between 2012 and 2050. In fact, the 83.7 million figure is nearly double the estimated 65+ population in 2012: 43.1 million.”The baby boomers are largely responsible for this increase in the older population, as they began turning 65 in 2011. By 2050, the surviving baby boomers will be over the age of 85,” according to the U.S. Census report.

But the U.S. is not the only country experiencing rapid growth in its aging population. In China, 9.4 percent of the population is 65 or older, or about 132 million people. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that 22.7 percent of China’s population, or 332 million people, will be age 65 or older. China’s economy, however, is still under development, and the country does not currently have a strong system in place for long-term elder care.

Not only is China looking to companies like Cascade Healthcare and Merrill Gardens to fill gaps in long-term care, but also as a means to learn models and managerial practices from successful U.S. operators. Eventually, China-based companies will likely enter the market building on the concepts introduced by U.S. senior living operators, while incorporating cultural values unique to China.

The growth of the aging population in the U.S. isn’t slowing down, but the U.S. is not alone in the mounting challenge of ensuring adequate long-term care options for the elderly. With the aging population experiencing explosive growth in many countries through 2050, senior living providers have abundant opportunities both in the U.S. and abroad to serve the needs of older adults.

Joan’s Journey: 2015 Already Rocks

Welcome, Joan’s Journeyers. We’re full swing into January 2015. I hope your year has begun more smoothly than mine. Once again, my life at senior living in Santa Monica rocked and rolled. This time, not by an earthquake, but by the wheels of a Santa Monica ambulance on its way to the UCLA Hospital Emergency Room.

Before continuing my painful and true story, I feel compelled to say this: Please learn from my mishap and keep your healthcare provider contacts up to date.Joan enjoying a dental checkup

Since relocating to senior living, I rightfully concentrated on adjusting to my new residence and lifestyle. For the first 11 months of senior living, I neglected to identify or visit an eye doctor, gynecologist and other medical specialists in Santa Monica.

Prior to moving from Baltimore, my experienced SeniorHomes.com counselor, Cindy Fox, recommended that I ask my current healthcare providers for references in the greater Los Angeles area. I followed through, sort-of, but downsizing and relocation details took precedence. Last Jan. 27, I moved to senior living at Holiday Villa East, and adapting to my new life got in the way of the arduous, not fun but necessary, task of identifying a new healthcare team.

A Frightening Reminder

One night in early January, I went to sleep feeling fine. Suddenly, with no warning, I awoke early Tuesday with a medical emergency—and I had no specialist to call for advice. What happened next, I will share in the next Joan’s Journey later this month. For now, as part of your life’s Journey, please learn from my innocent, but avoidable, omission and update your healthcare team.

Do you have an experience you would like to share? SeniorHomes.com and I invite you to fill in the Comment Box below. Until the next Joan’s Journey, enjoy the trip, day by day.

Joan London, a former Houston Chronicle correspondent and noted magazine writer/editor. She specializes in freelance writing/editing of issues relating to seniors. London moved to a senior community in Southern California, where she has enhanced her quality of life and is close to her children and grandchildren.

What You Need to Know About Guns in Senior Living Communities

Keeping residents safe is a priority of retirement communities, whether this means having an emergency call system in all apartments or documenting all dispensed medication to reduce medication errors. These safety features are why many families elect to have their loved one join a retirement community rather than living alone. In keeping with this safety-focused culture, there is one policy that is nearly universal across the senior living industry. Though this policy means that a resident’s freedom is curtailed, its adoption maintains a safe environment for everyone at the community—residents, staff and families.

In spite of the debate calling for expanding the number of places that firearms are permitted, the senior living industry has already taken a position on the issue—weapons have no place at a retirement community.

“It just makes sense,” Maribeth Bersani, senior vice president of Public Policy for the Assisted Living Federation of America, says of why the policy was adopted 15 years ago by the senior living industry. While communities want residents to have the same freedoms they enjoyed living on their own, “when you have people living in a congregate setting, we want to keep them safe,” she explains.

This no-weapons policy was one voluntarily adopted by retirement communities rather than being mandated by state requirements. For example, Pennsylvania statute 2600.108 states that “Firearms and weapons shall be contained in a locked cabinet in a place other than the residents’ room or in a common living area,” and “If a firearm, weapon or ammunition is the property of a resident, there shall be a written policy and procedures regarding the safety, access and use of firearms, weapons and ammunition. A resident may not take a firearm, weapon or ammunition out of the locked cabinet into living areas.”

In California, for all community care facilities regulated by the Department of Social Services, statute 80087(g)(1) states that “Storage areas for poisons, and firearms and other dangerous weapons shall be locked and (2) In lieu of locked storage of firearms, the licensee may use trigger locks or remove the firing pin.” However, in Texas, statute 92.125(b)(I) of the Resident’s Bill of Rights and Provider Bill of Rights states that a provider has a right to “maintain an environment free of weapons…”

The 2001 National Gun Policy Survey of the National Opinion Research Center: Research Findings reports that 37.2 percent of adults 65 and older had a gun in their household. Of their gun-carrying behavior, 48.6 percent said they carry for protection and 67.4 carry concealed.

So, what should you do when your parent, who is one of the 37.2 percent, is moving into a retirement community and wants to bring a firearm? First, ask the community whether the weapon is permitted.

Tim Marzec, vice president of operations-Community Integration for Senior Lifestyle Corporation, says his company doesn’t permit firearms in their communities, a policy decision that Vice President of Marking Jonathan Barbieri echoes is the same for Greenfield Senior Living. ”We have a no-weapons policy, even for collector weapons.”

If your parent carries a gun for protection, that should not be necessary at a retirement community. With 24-hour staffing, one of a retirement community’s benefits is built-in protection. If your parents have collector weapons they wish to bring, ask the community if this is allowed, as this might be permitted on a case-by-case basis. Residents should also alert family members that weapons are not permitted at the “community, a policy that is the same for staff.”

But is it really possible to prevent weapons from being smuggled into a community? Bersani acknowledges that “people will break [the rule] if they want to,” but there can be consequences if that happens, such as the community being cited for failing to secure a weapon or failing to protect their residents should something happen.

What the senior living industry fears happening isn’t a mass shooting, as has been the cases at schools and other public places. Instead, it’s a possible murder/suicide incident, such as one that happened last year in Indiana. Bersani says the industry has just started discussing this and recognizes the need to do a better job of empowering people with end of life decisions.

Written by SeniorHomes.com’s Andrea Watts.

More Cowbell! A Will Ferrell Guide to Seniors’ New Year’s Resolutions

No matter what age you find yourself at the beginning of 2015, it’s never too late for a fresh start! And who better to give you a motivating pep talk than the man, the myth, the legend—Will Ferrell?

1. “We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy cane, candy corn and syrup.” – Elf

If you’re not an elf, skip dessert! While you might enjoy the jolt of energy and bold flavor that sweet treats offer, the empty calories and crash that follow can lead to long-term harm, such as high blood sugar. Try weaning yourself off the dessert habit by choosing fruit or a sugar-free option instead.

2. “So many activities!!!” – Stepbrothers

If you’re like every other American, vowing to be more active is at the top of your resolution list. Don’t let it become overwhelming—little changes in lifestyle go a long way. Just taking a short walk every day leads to better cardiac and mental health, flexibility and weight loss. Start a walking club with friends or others in your retirement community!

3. “HEY MOM! CAN WE GET SOME MEATLOAF? What is she doing back there? I never know what she’s doing.” – Wedding Crashers

It can be difficult to keep up with your busy family members. Make a point of staying in touch by hand-writing letters. Not only is this art form classic and sweet, but it also provides sentimental keepsakes for years to come. Begin a pen-pal exchange with family members far away. For those who visit more often, start a journal full of memories that you can share each time you see each other.

4. [playing jazz flute] “Little Ham ‘n Eggs comin’ at ya, hold on people, hope ya got your griddles.” – Anchorman

Remember how much you used to love crocheting? Why did you ever stop? Rekindle an old hobby and share your talents with others. Donate scarves to your local homeless shelter, share your favorite recipes with family members or play the jazz flute for your retirement community’s upcoming party.

5. “I’m not sure what to do with my hands.” – Talladega Nights

Volunteering in your community can bring a newfound sense of accomplishment and fulfillment to your life. Whether it’s at a soup kitchen, animal shelter or simply making a point to visit the shy new member of your retirement community, connecting with people in a meaningful way benefits everyone.

6. “I’m very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.” – Anchorman

Improving your cognitive health is fun and easy! Reading more (especially books which truly interest you), doing crossword puzzles or cracking open the Sudoku book every morning not only sharpens your mind, but can be a social activity, as well. Start a club and share the experience!

7. “Actually a pretty nice little Saturday, we’re going to go to Home Depot … maybe Bed, Bat, & Beyond, I don’t know, I don’t know if we’ll have enough time.” – Old School

No matter where you go, you should have a comfortable and accessible home to come back to. Resolve to make your home as safe as possible. This especially means guarding against trips and falls. Here are a few simple home improvements to make in 2015:

  • Clear up clutter on the floor and move electric cords out of walking paths.
  • Secure throw rugs with anti-slip pads.
  • Have adequate lighting in every room and add nightlights throughout your home.
  • Install grab bars around the tub, shower and toilet.
  • Get a safety mat for the bottom of the tub.

8. “I see you have learned to work the Google on the Internet machine.” – Blades of Glory

Learn how to use today’s technology! Especially when it comes to keeping in touch with friends and family, computers are on your side. Facetime and Skype transport your loved ones right to your home using video chatting. Facebook is a non-intrusive way to see what people are up to, and you can message through their chat application. Before you feel intimidated, know that these programs are designed for easy use. Though it may seem overwhelming at first, after a short time you’ll be clicking and typing away as fast as your grandchildren.

9. “You can take away our phones and you can take away our keys, but you can NOT take away our dreams.”

“That’s right, because we are, like, sleeping when we have them!” – A Night at the Roxbury

Seniors require just as much sleep as their younger counterparts—that’s right, seven to eight hours. To get a more restful night’s sleep, you need a healthy diet, exercise and good mental health during the day. Some general tips:

  • Don’t use the computer or television the hour before bed.
  • Use relaxation techniques such as meditation as you wind down for the day.
  • Have a light snack before bed, such as whole grains or warm milk.

10. “I have a fever, and the only prescription—is more cowbell.” – Saturday Night Live

While you can try the cowbell, the only way to stay completely healthy is to have regular checkups with your doctor. Not only can he or she screen you for underlying issues before they become problems, but your doctor can also answer any questions you have, to make sure 2015 is your best year yet.

Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. Shayne has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a Master’s in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.

7 Apps That Meet Caregivers’ Needs

Silicon Valley is beginning to realize that there is an ever-increasing need for technology—mobile, online, and in-home—to support caregivers. A report from the National Alliance for Caregiving, the “Alliance,” comes on the heels of an April 2014 roundtable that featured government experts, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, caregiving advocates and researchers.

The report, “Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving,” summarizes the recommendations developed by the roundtable, in the hopes of motivating the industry to develop useful technology tools and apps for caregivers.

Today’s caregivers are connected

In the foreword of the report, President and CEO of the Alliance, Gail Gibson Hunt, explains that “today, most family caregivers are connected to technologies, whether through the Internet, mobile apps, or telemonitoring devices that can help friends and support the care of a loved one.”

She also explains that there are tons of digital solutions out there, but “these solutions must be tailored to the needs and abilities of the family caregiver. Recent research shows that nearly 40 percent of people in the U.S. are caring for an adult or child with disabilities, a number that is increasing as Baby Boomers age. Caregivers increasingly rely on technology to help with medication management and reconciliation, to get information on a treatment or diagnosis, to find support, and to search for services.”

The purpose of the report is to urge those working in Silicon Valley to address the needs of caregivers and meet them where they are, by providing a better understanding of those caregivers’ needs.

Digging deeper into caregivers’ needs

To get a clear picture of those caregivers’ needs, we look to 2010, when the Alliance published a study with United Health Group. “The e-Connected Family Caregiver: Bringing Caregiving into the 21st Century,” surveyed family caregivers about the likelihood of using 12 different technologies to help them care for their loved ones. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed were most interested in one of four systems: Personal Health Record Tracking, Caregiving Coordination System, Medication Support System, and Symptom Monitor and Transmitter.

It seems as though Silicon Valley has been paying attention to what these experts and caregivers want, as countless apps for caregivers currently are available for various types of devices. Our goal is to highlight some of the most useful, reliable and user-friendly apps  out there for caregivers. Our recommendations are below, in no particular order.

1. Healthspek

A free, cloud-based iPad app, Healthspek gives individuals and caregivers the ability to track, collect and share personal and family health records. Healthspek also is helpful for recording physician, insurance and emergency contacts. Caregivers especially love the way in which the app helps them manage medications, medical charts and images, and track vitals. To make communication between caregivers and medical providers easier, Healthspek receives medical records and facilitates electronic communications with providers, and, with patient’s permission, doctors can access records through Healthspek’s ChartNow feature.

2. Unfrazzle

Sometimes, coordinating care between caregivers is the most challenging task of all. Unfrazzle is a free app for iPhones, iPads and Android devices that seeks to make the lives of caregivers a little easier by helping them coordinate tasks for themselves or with other family caregivers. The app allows caregivers to keep track of day-to-day caregiving tasks, share some or all of the tasks, and choose which tasks to track or assign. With flexible reminders for scheduling one-time or ongoing events, caregivers don’t have to worry about forgetting something. Plus, privacy controls allow users to decide who sees which information. Caregivers also have peace of mind when using Unfrazzle, because they are able to check in to make sure assigned tasks are completed.

3. Balance: for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Alzheimer’s is a very specific disease, and Balance: for Alzheimer’s Caregivers is an iPhone and iPad app designed specifically for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. Because to the nature of Alzheimer’s, it is especially important for caregivers to track behavioral and emotional changes and share them with other caregivers and doctors, and the app makes those tasks so much simpler for caregivers. At a reasonable $0.99, Balance is a popular app among caregivers because it also provides news, information, and research relating to Alzheimer’s. Users also take advantage of Balance’s medication management features, including refill date, start date, dosage, and more. Plus, Balance makes doctor’s visits more manageable because the caregivers can log symptoms and take notes.

4. Caregiver’s Touch

One of the best apps for collaborating with other family members and caregivers, Caregiver’s Touch has been referred to as “The Cadillac of Apps” by Caregivers blogger Ann Napoletan. Create as many as six profiles that each stores information on tabs for easy access. To get the full web version, a $19.95/month or $199.95/year subscription is required, but the $4.99 iPhone app is available to sync with the subscription service; one may be used without the other. Caregiver’s Touch includes a simple tool for organizing and storing information and then sharing it with family members in several categories: calendar, contacts, emergency, insurance, legal and financial, medical history, medication and notes. The app also helps caregivers share information with family members securely.

5. PocketPharmacist

Billed as “the easiest to use (and understand) drug information app and medication organizer,” Pocket Pharmacist has earned outstanding reviews from medical professionals and users. Caregivers can rest easy knowing the app will alert them to potentially dangerous drug interactions. The $1.99 iPhone and iPad app allows caregivers to organize family members’ medications with medication reminders, automatic interaction alerts, and profile printouts, plus create multiple medication lists with the Med Box med organizer.

6. CareCoach

With caregivers and their loved ones making so many trips to the doctor, it can very difficult to keep track of and remember what physicians say at eachappointments. And, if there are several caregivers for one individual, keeping track of the topics discussed in the exam room can be nearly impossible. CareCoach, a free app available for both Android devices and the iPhone, solves the problem. With CareCoach, caregivers have the ability to review questions and notes to ask the physician and then record a doctor’s visit with your smart phone. After the visit, users can securely upload to their online CareCoach account and then choose who can listen to the recording, for a convenient way to share information about the family member’s care.

7. Lotsa Helping Hands

Lotsa Helping Hands realizes that caregiving takes a community effort. So, the app helps users to ask for help, and it makes it easy for members of the community to know what to do, and when to do it. Sometimes, caregivers need to lean on one another and community members for support as they face the challenges of caring for a loved one: Lotsa Helping Hands has a solution for that, too. The free app includes a host of helpful features for caregivers, including a Help Calendar, Community Building Features, Custom Sections, Photo Gallery, Message Boards, Well Wishes, and more.

Do you use any apps to help you in your daily caregiving duties? We’d love to hear about which apps you have tried, and which have worked the best for your situation. Leave a comment to get the conversation moving.

Image via Flickr by ebayink

Joan’s Journey: Homeward Bound

Happy Holidays, bloggers! As we wrap up Christmas and Hanukkah and celebrate the New Year, our thoughts may turn nostalgic. What did we do in 2014 that we prefer to do differently in 2015. Many of us focus on relationships and relationship-building.Welcome Home

For me, in a recent trip “Home” to Baltimore, relationships were the focus of my visit. I relocated from Baltimore to Los Angeles in January 2014, with the expressed intent to be close to my children and grandchildren. Moreover, I was ready to downsize from a large condo where I lived alone, to a senior living community with amenities that would enhance my quality of life.

These first 11 months at Holiday Villa East, a senior residence in Santa Monica, Calif., I remained closely in touch with lifelong family and friends back home. A funny thing happened during this time. I began to refer to Santa Monica and HVE as Home. I surprised myself when I first said to a friend, “I’ll call you when I get home,”—meaning California, not Maryland.

On the plane eastbound, I contemplated my emotions visiting the city, family and friends I have known all my life.

To read about Joan’s trip, and the realizations it provided, please read Joan’s Journey, Part 25: Homeward Bound.

Joan London, a former Houston Chronicle correspondent and noted magazine writer/editor, specializes in freelance writing/editing of issues relating to seniors. London moved to a senior community in Southern California, where she has enhanced her quality of life and is close to her children and grandchildren.