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Giving Care to Elderly From a Distance

Richmond Times-Dispatch


Richmond Times-Dispatch

A variety of high-tech gadgets can help you monitor aging relatives

Little in life is as stressful and guilt-inducing as long-distance caregiving.

An estimated 7 million Americans are caregivers for an older relative living an hour or more away, according to the National Institute on Aging. Those numbers are expected to double in the coming years.

High-tech tools can help reduce the anxiety for baby boomers caring for their aging relatives from a distance, says Doctor Marion, author of "Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion's 10 Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One."

"You don't have to be a computer guru" to take advantage of some of these gadgets, said Doctor Marion, aka Dr. Marion Somers, a geriatric-care manager for more than 30 years who has become a national spokeswoman for elder-care issues through her book, her lectures and her Web site, www.doctormarion.com. She is about to embark on a national bus tour, including a stop in Richmond, to raise awareness about elder care and aging issues.

Some of the high-tech tools she recommended in a phone interview include:

* Lifeline, an in-home medical alert system triggered by a push-button worn in a pendant or wrist band. www.lifelinesys.com. Cost: A little more than $1 per day.

* Presto, a faxlike machine that allows seniors to receive e-mail and digital photos without needing to have (or learning to use) a computer. www .presto.com. The "printing mailbox," which connects to a phone line, costs $149.99. Monthly service is $9.99.

* QuietCare, a service that monitors activity through wireless sensors throughout the home. Each sensor transmits information about a person's activity. Software analyzes changes in daily routines, so caregivers can be alerted. www.quietcare.com. Less than $3 per day.

* Jitterbug, a simple, bare-bones cell phone with big buttons and a bright display screen. www.jitterbug.com. From $10 per month.

Other high-tech gadgets on the market include pillbox monitors, Web cameras and shoes embedded with a GPS device to determine the whereabouts of the wearer.

"If you've got a wanderer in the family, you'll know where they are," Doctor Marion said. "I don't think that's Big Brother watching us. I think it's just good old common sense. We've got the know-how. Let's use it in a way that's best suited for the problems we're facing."

She said many low-tech tools also remain effective: medical or Alzheimer's "wandering" identification bracelets, night lights plugged in throughout the house to help prevent falls, and programming the senior's phone to dial 911 and commonly called numbers. She also suggests posting a list of phone numbers -- in large print -- and doctors' information near every phone, and include the senior's name, address and ZIP code. In emergencies, the memory is often the first thing to go.

"We're a population that's getting older and living longer," she said. "Very few of us are going to be exempt from caregiving responsibilities along the way." Contact Bill Lohmann at (804) 649-6639 or wlohmann@timesdispatch.com.

Doctor Marion in Richmond

Doctor Marion, aka Dr. Marion Somers, will be in Richmond to discuss elder-care issues Oct. 2, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Senior Center, 2710 Monument Ave.; 1-3 p.m., Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road. For information, call Senior Connections, (804) 343-3000, or visit www.DoctorMarion.com. The sponsor of her nationwide bus tour is www.BoomerTowne.com, an informational Web site on boomer-related issues.

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