Technology: Keeping Families Connected

The American Family; how it has changed over the last couple of decades.  Most of us remember the days when we all sat down to dinner as a family and shared our experiences of the day.

Afterward, we would all gather, together, in front of the television and watch whatever the few networks were showing.  Before television, it was radio and before that, maybe some storytelling, but for the most part, evenings had always been family time.  The majority of married women weren’t working outside the home and the children always came home to find her there.  As mentioned, much of that has changed.

Nowadays, kids are involved in one or more of the countless sports, programs or activities that schools provide and have schedules that rival those in the corporate world.  Today, the majority of mothers hold jobs outside of the home.  All of these factors have made “dinner time” much more complicated and difficult to pull off.  Parents returning at different times, children coming and going to various activities….and of course, probably the most intrusive addition to the family lifestyle, technology.

Even when families are together, it is safe to say that they are all more engaged with their personal devices than each other, be it a cell phone, tablet, laptop, TV, etc….  It is the norm now for everyone to have their own TV in their room along with several others in the home.  Everyone can watch their own favorites.  Cable, satellite and the internet have given us hundreds, if not thousands, of options to entertain ourselves.

For those of us in the long-term care industry, we constantly see the struggles of families to engage with those being cared for, especially the younger children with older grandparents and great grandparents.  Throw in a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia and the gap widens.  How do you keep families connected?  How do you make visits meaningful?  Ironically, the same technology that divides families on a daily basis can also be used to create connections between the generations as well as overcoming distance and schedules.   Skype and Wii are two of the first technological pieces that were easily integrated into senior living communities.  You would be hard pressed to find a senior residence that didn’t have a Wii bowling team or program.  The ease of the game lends itself to a multi-generational activity while providing gentle exercise, socializing and healthy competition.

The same goes for apps like Skype and FaceTime.  Video calls make busy schedules or long distances less of an issue for connecting with loved ones anywhere at any time.  A simple call to grandma and she is there to say goodnight or wish a happy birthday.

The benefits of technology in a long term setting don’t end with games and apps or even with medical equipment for that matter. Technology can, and is being used, to enhance communications, teach both staff and residents and to increase the quality of person care of the residents.  Having important information at their fingertips will allow for caregivers to make better and faster decisions, thus providing better, more personalized care for the resident while keeping families informed and up to date.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to the benefits of technology and caring for older adults.

As professional caregivers, it is up to us to help maintain and even create connections between loved ones, especially in the case of dementia.   We need to look beyond convention and utilize every way possible to treat the family as a whole and keep them connected as best as possible for as long as possible.