Cool Tools for Older Adults
By Jennifer Mundl, Assistive Technology Specialist, Courage Center, and Sue Redepenning, OTR, Assistive Technology Supervisor, Courage Center
New digital technologies, such as Facebook and Twitter, have changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. They allow us to be independent and still connected in our communities. These digital tools are some of the most recent additions to a large family of assistive technologies—devices that improve a person’s ability to live and function independently. For example, individuals who have difficulty with speech after a stroke might use a device that helps them communicate in other ways. Individuals with arthritis can use tools that assist them with opening a jar and getting in and out of a car. Assistive technology possesses unlimited potential.
We all use assistive technology. Without it, we would not be able to perform many daily tasks. We could call a pencil assistive technology because without it we would not be able to write notes. Some individuals are not capable of using a standard method of writing and, therefore, need an adaptation that allows them this ability.
Courage Center realizes the importance of assistive technology and has implemented services to meet these needs. For example, its Drivers Assessment and Training Services offers solutions to help older citizens continue to drive safely. Using a larger mirror or a car-door support for exiting a vehicle are two ways to use technology to prolong safe driving.
Transportation is not the only area for which Courage Center provides options. In one instance, the center helped an individual learn adaptations and strategies that allowed her to continue living independently in her home rather than moving to an assisted living center. In another instance, a man sustained an injury that took away his ability to communicate with his wife and family. The wife cried when he finally was able to press a switch to indicate “yes” or “no” to a question, and he eventually learned to use a more complex adaptation where he could speak as he did prior to the injury. The possibilities are endless.
Keep in mind that a low-tech solution may be as good as a high-tech one.
If hearing is difficult and the ring of a telephone is not audible, a flashing light can alert the individual that the phone is ringing. Products that amplify sound also are available on the market.
Reading is important to many of us and becomes problematic with visual limitations. One solution is to magnify and display the book on a television screen. Digitally formatted books, read on an iPad or a Kindle Reader, provide options for audio reading or increasing the size of the text. For low-tech solutions, the library system loans large-print books, and the State Services for the Blind provides a communication center that places popular books on reading machines or computers at no cost.
If the right technology is applied, technology solutions can be easy and effective. For some, they are necessary components for being able to function independently. But assistive technology is not just for individuals with a disability or limitation. We can all benefit from assistive technology and accommodations.
Many opportunities are available for people to discuss options with experienced users, and you may want to investigate blogs, websites, or consumer guides to become better informed before purchasing a product. Two good places to start learning about possibilities are www.abledata.com and www.axistive.com.
Courage Center and the Vital Aging Network will offer two forums on assistive technology in February. To sign up, visit the VAN website at www.vital-aging-network.org.
Jennifer Mundl and Susan Redepenning both have over 20 years of experience with assistive technology. Jennifer Mundl completed a master’s degree in special education and an undergraduate degree in computer science. Additionally, she is certified as an assistive technology practitioner. Susan holds a four-year degree as an occupational therapist. Both individuals conduct trainings and assessment on assistive technology and have spoken on a national level.
Courage Center is a nonprofit rehabilitation and resource center that advances the lives of children and adults experiencing barriers to health and independence. Courage Center specializes in treating brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, chronic pain, autism, and disabilities experienced since birth. For more information, visit www.CourageCenter.org.
Connect with Courage Tours are offered the third Thursday morning of each month (times vary). They provide an overview of the organization and include department visits and stories that tell who Courage is and why we exist. The guides tell how Courage Center changes lives and about how community members, clients and volunteers can connect with Courage. To RSVP for a tour, please contact Kathy Hayes at 763-520-0255 or Kathleen.Hayes@CourageCenter.org.