November is National Family Caregivers Month.
So first, THANK YOU to ALL family caregivers!! It is hard to understand the emotional, physical and sometimes financial challenges that come with this territory until you are living the experience.
As our nation and lawmakers continue to grapple over how best to meet the needs of our aging population (and those caring for them) there are signs of growing awareness among individuals, organizations and companies... that we MUST do better at caring for our elders.
“There is slightly more awareness, but we are in the infancy stages of what we need to do for our seniors.”
So says Cindy Fink, the Executive Director of Meals on Wheels Rowan; the program in Salisbury, North Carolina.
I caught up with Fink to talk about how her organization is incorporating technology to better serve clients. She believes changes are taking place, but questions, if they will happen fast enough.
“We have so many seniors that are coming into the need-based space, and there are so many we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with them and work with them. We can only pray they stay healthy and live independently.”
To help as many elders as possible achieve that, Fink explained to me how her agency is using computer tablets to help elders stay connected and by default; perhaps healthier.
I met Fink during a webinar hosted by the California Department of Aging, discussing various ways to ensure those in rural communities can stay connected. Fink joined the call to share what Meals on Wheels is doing and how it is helping.
At the beginning of this year, Fink says her agency used money from the CARES Act to launch a pilot program: purchase 15 computer tablets along with one year of service, and get them into the hands of clients.
The goal? To regularly connect, check on, and interact with clients who were more isolated than usual because of Covid-19 restrictions.
“Our primary uses when we first started were just to check in on people every day. During Covid our volunteers were only seeing folks maybe one time a week.”
As the pandemic dragged on, Fink says the tablets came into play even more.
“We started with comfort calls and touched base about the same time as when they [clients] usually had a meal delivered. We needed to make sure they were preparing the delivered meals; that they had a working microwave or that they remembered to eat. Those comfort calls turned into the reality that these folks needed more contact. So we looked at how we could use technology for wellness checks.”
Fink says her team uses the Claris Companion tablet. According to the manufacturer’s website, It is designed specifically with older individuals in mind. Fink says she and her clients like it because it is a touch-screen device, and the icons are large and easy to see. She also says voice activation makes the device easy for many elders who may not have any experience with technology.
How does Meals on Wheels use the tablet? Fink says each client device is pre-loaded with personalized information. For instance: does the client want to use it for...
gaming and social interaction?
doctor’s appointments and sending health data?
hobbies, weather-apps, or fitness programs?
maybe viewing photos and videos, attending online church services?
having library access or wellness programs?
“We are in the pilot phase and already, we have found great information from that. Our first people started in January and from data gathered at three months, then again at six months, we found symptoms of depression have decreased by 30%. The numbers of people who have increased their social reach are at 20%.”
Right now, staff and volunteers can simply look at the tablet data to learn how often clients are engaging; sticking to their wellness programs, downloading photos, taking classes and/or remaining active and engaged.
What advice does Fink have for other agencies looking to add tech to the mix?
She says program managers should first ensure client families and contacts are on-board with using the devices. After all - being in regular touch means all parties have to be willing to play.
As for training clients in how to use the devices? Fink says, ‘forget it!' Her approach: get people the equipment and learn together.
“I loaded personal info and then had these shipped directly to folks and said, ‘plug it in and touch the button.’ We are still in Covid. You can’t just go into someone’s home to set these up and train them. That’s why we used a one-stop shop type device.”
Fink hopes to see more senior and even medical facilities turning to tablet technology to track patients. She believes staying in regular contact; knowing if a patient is eating right or following their care plans could help avoid repeat hospital visits, illness and isolation - or worse.
“Tablets deliver insights. You can see interactions and you can drill down for one user and see which friends and family made contact; who they talked with. One woman has gotten 155 photos from her family using this tablet! It’s just amazing.”
Thank you to the team at Meals on Wheels, Rowan for your vision and dedication! There is so much to learn and we can all help each other on this journey. So...
Be sure to join us 11.3.21 (yes, that's today) for a LIVE Q&A interaction session. Just jump into the discussion session of the KIRC article, "I Wish I had" to interact and connect!
Until next time~