Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Wifi in ElderCare: A Must for Assisted Living / Nursing Homes / Senior Centers

With improved bandwidth and availability of high-speed wifi, advances in assistive technology, lower-cost hardware (laptops, handheld devices, touch-screen monitors, etc.) and new, easy-to-use web applications, the elderly have more access to a wide array of information and services, from email to lifelong learning.

There is no reason keep the elderly isolated and out of touch from their families, no matter how far away they might be. The initial investment can be quite modest, especially if a nursing home or assisted living center takes an approach similar to ones taken by hotel business centers. They have two or three workstations, each of which is equipped for their clientele's needs, which would include the right kind of software and hardware (detailed below).

Support staff could be available during certain times of the day. There would be a time limit for work on the workstations (20 minutes, perhaps). Although many of the elderly users would have their own computers, having a small computer center would help keep everything running smoothly, and would help with individuals with vision, hearing, or mobility issues. Having a support team would also be very helpful for those residents with cognitive challenges.

*Connection to family
Everyone needs a support group, and, it goes without saying that people need people. However, the quality of the connection is often compromised in a nursing home or in assisted living where the connections between individuals are of necessity, or of commerce. Having a vital, daily connection to one's family can provide an emotional anchor for individuals who are going through a phase of life where they feel lonely, fragile, and cut off from caring alliances. Advancing into old age can be a frightening experience, and the elderly often feel the sting of prejudice and patronizing attitudes. They often appear to go into a downhill slide immediately after moving to assisted living. Is the slide real or not? Many times, what looks like a cognitive decline is, in reality, shame and fear.

*Cognitive stimulation
Not only do videos, audio, and images provide stimulation, the interaction brings another level of engagement. The major difference between retrieving information with a computer and watching it on television is the fact that computers are interactive. Numerous learning styles and strategies are accommodated through an array of computers, web applications, and information sources. Cognitive stimulation exercise for the elderly can yield very positive results.

*Connection to prior knowledge
The elderly are immensely valuable to our society, not only because of their knowledge, experience, and wisdom, but also because they show us our humanity. We have points of contact -- and often those points are through shared experiences, and also through prior knowledge. Having access to wifi and a solid computer with good web applications and reliable repositories of information can keep that prior knowledge alive through web searches, readings, and connections with friends and family. Individuals can connect prior knowledge to new experience and feel they are continuing to evolve and to grow.

*Connection to outside world
It's worth repeating. Perhaps the most immediately jolting experience for the individual who enters assisted living is the loss of a connection to the outside world. Television and radio are not true connections. If anything, television and radio reinforce the sense that the elderly individual has been marooned on a faraway planet that no one wants to visit, although people from the outside world are comfortable with transmitting sound or images to the faraway planet (!) Since radio and television do not offer the opportunity to communicate back to the source, it does not take long for the elderly residents in an assisted living center to wonder if they have become pariahs -- simply by virtue of age and diminishing physical abilities. Having an interactive connection is extremely valuable.

*Lifelong Learning / Continuing Education
Some of the most motivated learners are those who are living in assisted living or eldercare facilities. Taking courses provides connections to lived experience and prior knowledge, and stimulating the neural pathways helps individuals make connections, develop new problem-solving techniques, and to feel self-confidence. Sharing work with others, or continuing investigations into one's interests -- often memoirs, literature, history, comparative religion, science, or medicine -- develops self-esteem and a renewed sense of self-respect. Creative writing courses, and those dealing with stories (community, family, personal) are quite popular. It is also often a goal to complete a degree -- often a master's degree. At any rate, since the 1990s, the concept of "elderlearn" has been vital on college campuses. It's time to move it inside the walls of assisted living.

Essential Applications
*News feeds
*Search (google / bing / yahoo) on key words
*Online libraries / repositories of pertinent information

Essential Hardware
*Large monitor
*Touch-screen monitor
*Memory sufficient for graphics / video (RAM)
*High-capacity video card
*Desktop (rather than laptop)
*External speakers
*DVD player / recorder
*Touchscreen option
*Camera (detachable) for images / video
*Kindle reader (scalable text)
*iPad reader (scalable text)

Workstations for Visually / Hearing / Cognitively Impaired
*Hearing Impaired
High-volume, high-quality speakers

*Visually Impaired
Large print / scalable images
JAWS assistive technology (audio)
screen-readers (news / e-mail, etc.)

*Cognitively Impaired
Easy to navigate menus
Simple text, large text
Two or three dedicated applications, very easy to use

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