About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.

How can the healthcare industry use technology to improve in-home care for American seniors?

Essay response by Josephine Wong, Harvey Mudd College

In-home care can be stressful for the caregiver and the senior. Caregivers are responsible for numerous functions, from basic daily activities, such as bathing and dressing, to more strenuous tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. Meanwhile, as seniors become increasingly unable to take care of themselves, they may become lethargic and depressed about their immobilized situation. However, technology can resolve these two problems by reducing caregivers’ workload and helping seniors take care of themselves. The versatile wheelchair and Captel telephone are two innovations that can help improve in-home care for seniors.

During a summer engineering program, a mechanical engineer visited my classroom to talk about his wheelchair design, the versatile wheelchair. When studying for his master’s degree, he noticed that wheelchairs are rather difficult to turn. One would have to push forward one wheel and hold firm the other wheel to pivot. For elderly persons, the strength required to turn a wheelchair may be too great. The caregiver would have to navigate the wheelchair for them or they would have to buy an electric wheelchair, which are expensive, costing at least ten times that of an ordinary wheelchair. The engineer decided to work on improving wheelchair design for his master’s thesis. He devised a front wheel for the wheelchair. A hand grip allowed the user to turn the front wheel and navigate the wheelchair in any direction, even escape a tight corner. By using the improved wheelchair, the senior can move around independently and allow the caregiver to concentrate on other, more urgent tasks.

The Captel telephone is another example of how technology can improve in-home care. One of the main responsibilities of caregivers is to provide companionship. This responsibility is especially important for caregivers of elderly persons with hearing loss. As hearing loss makes communication with family members difficult, the elderly person may start to feel lonely and isolated. Using sign language and written messages is an option, but communication is still belabored. Caregivers must take the time to slowly communicate with the elderly person and provide company when family members are busy with work and family. However, a caregiver has many other responsibilities. In this difficult situation, the caregiver and the senior would greatly benefit from technology that allows the senior to communicate with others by himself or herself, such as the Captel telephone. The Captel telephone is a caption-writing telephone. It prints words spoken from the other line on a display window, enabling those with hearing loss to talk on the telephone. The senior would gain independence. At the same time, the caregiver would be relieved of the responsibility of being the elderly person’s sole companion. Because of its ingenious, valuable functionality, the Captel telephone has received a four-star rating, but it can be further improved. Based on reviews, the main concern is that the screen takes a long time to print the message. As the conversation continues, the lag time increases. By reprogramming the device so that it processes the spoken words more quickly, engineers can make the Captel telephone a major assistance in in-home care for seniors with hearing impairment.

Based on my observations of the versatile wheelchair and Captel telephone, I can clearly see how technology can be used to resolve a key problem in in-home care. By helping seniors acquire more control over their lives, technology can reduce caregivers’ immense workload. Engineering is a critical force behind these technologies and I am proud to join this pioneering work by majoring in engineering.

About Josephine

Josephine is planning to study engineering or physics at Harvey Mudd College.

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