New high-tech caregiving devices aim to help Canadians care for aging family

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Provided by: Canadian Press
Written by: NOOR JAVED
Jun. 17, 2007
TORONTO (CP) – They aren’t being regarded as a replacement for human caregivers yet, but researchers hope a number of high-tech devices with the ability to speak, instruct, and even tell a joke will become an invaluable tool in helping Canadian caregivers look after their aging family members.

“There is a real need for technology that can assist in caring for others,” said William D’Souza, the Ontario-based creator of Mon Ami, an assisted living device which can operate anything electronic in a home. It can also be programmed to give reminders about medication and appointments, read books and play music.

“We looked everywhere and could find nothing that was comprehensively able to assist people in their day to day tasks, ” said D’Souza, who was displaying the multilingual device at a caregiving, disability, aging and technology conference in Toronto.

D’Souza said he came up with the idea for Mon Ami after he was faced with challenges in his own caregiving experience with his elderly father-in-law.

“He wanted to live independently, so we got a housekeeper for him. But even that didn’t do, because she would only come in the morning and he was alone for the rest of the day,” he said.

Mon Ami, however, allows caregivers to monitor the activities of their loved one remotely – through a log report online or a video camera – and “takes some of the burden or anxiety off of caregivers when they have to be away from their family,” D’Souza said.

An estimated three million people in Canada are caregivers and provide care and assistance for friends or family who may be elderly, or face physical, cognitive or mental health conditions, the Canadian Caregivers Coalition says.

But the number of elderly people living independently is expected to increase significantly in the next five years, as the population of baby boomers reaches 65.

“People are living much longer, and are living much longer with greater degrees of disabilities,” said the Baroness Pitkeathley, who has been an advocate for caregivers in the U.K for the last 20 years.

“And almost all developed countries are moving towards care at home, rather than care at a residential facility,” said Pitkeathley, a keynote speaker at the conference.

She said she believes that while the role of technology is important, it lacks an obvious human element that many elderly people prefer.

“I think clearly there are huge potential for assistance to the caregivers or the cared for person through technology, but I don’t think that’s ever going to be able to substitute for some of the personal interventions that many people want and need,” she said.

Palmier Stevenson-Young, the president of the Canadian Caregivers Coalition, is also skeptical of how effectively the technology will be adopted into caregiving strategies.

“I am sure the technologies are useful to people who know how to use it,” she said.

“But there are many people who are being cared for who wouldn’t be able to learn new technology.”

Another problem, she notes, is that the infrastructure is still not developed enough in many parts of Canada to support such emerging technology.

“Where I live, which is only 41 kilometres north of (Highway 401), near Kingston, we don’t have high-speed Internet, and our cellphones don’t work,” she said. “So I think there are a lot of limits to access to technology.”

She says from her experience in working with caregivers, it’s the tried and true strategies for taking care of the elderly that seem to work best.

“We need to create caregiving networks, and mobilize volunteers and train them to assist people in their homes, so those people can stay in their homes,” said Stevenson-Young.

“If those groups were solid and stable, and had core funding to continue to do their work, that kind of help for people could be available anywhere.”

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