Everyone feels lonely sometimes, but a recent study by faculty of the University of California-San Francisco’s Department of Geriatrics reports that it can be especially debilitating for older adults, leading to serious health problems and even death. Published online in the June 2012 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine and based on the National Institute on Aging’s “Health and Retirement Study,” “Loneliness in Older Persons: A Predictor of Functional Decline and Death” by Carla M. Perissinotto, M.D., MHS, Irena Stijacic Cenzer, MA, and Kenneth E. Covinsky, M.D., MPH, presents research finding that 43 percent of the elderly population studied described themselves as feeling lonely. As sad as that is, the really bad news is that this correlates with a 59 percent greater risk of decline, and a 45 percent greater risk of death.
Reading this report put me in mind of some of the home monitoring systems I’ve been learning about, and which you can read about in this issue of HomeCare magazine. I’m sure you’re familiar with these systems that gather data around the home via wireless sensors that detect things like motion (or lack thereof), the pressure of someone lying in bed or seated on a couch, open doors, unduly high or low water flow and room temperatures that fall outside of set parameters. While that information is made available to caregivers online, nearly all of these systems also incorporate some type of “dedicated tablet” for the homeowner’s personal use.
Resembling the various commercial computer tablets that are currently available on the market, a dedicated version is preprogrammed so that instead of dad having to search for his favorite online sports site, or mom the Weather Channel so she can make her weekend plans, the Web addresses are programmed into the tablet so that all they need to do is touch a large, recognizable icon on the screen and the website immediately opens. This avoids the confusing and sometimes frightening situations that we’re all familiar with when surfing the Internet. Texting is part of the package, e-mail is simplified so that spam is eliminated and video chatting allows users to see their loved ones onscreen, and to be seen by them as well. Family caregivers can post photos and videos to be viewed on the tablet, and games such as Solitaire help keep the mind active and engaged.