Simple tools to improve lives
For her, it might be putting on socks or twisting the lid off a fruit jar. For him, it might be remembering to take vital medication. Some everyday tasks can be vexing problems for the elderly and disabled—yet many such tasks can be easily accomplished using relatively simple tools.
Unfortunately, many people are unaware that many such helpful tools exist, said Joyce Tam, a doctoral candidate in psychology.
So Tam teamed up with other researchers and students in psychology and the College of Nursing to produce a series of informational videos highlighting common tools available to assist with everything from hearing, vision, and remembering important tasks—like taking medication—to daily activities, such as dressing, cooking, and using the bathroom.
Working closely with her faculty advisor, Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, Tam is helping people learn about the array of assistive devices on the market—from medication reminders that talk to kitchen knives that rock, electric door openers, large-grip utensils, money identifiers, and automatic electricity shutoffs.
If more people knew these assistive devices were available, more people could enjoy more active, satisfying, and independent lives, Schmitter-Edgecombe said. And more people could rely less on family members and caregivers to live longer and more comfortably in their own homes.
As the elderly population grows, the need for assistive technologies is expanding along with the variety of tools coming onto the market. For many aging and disabled people, these devices can help reduce common frustrations and increase their safety and sense of freedom. They can also reduce caregiver burden and provide greater peace of mind.
Enlightening videos and presentations available
The videos created by the WSU team cover topics in eight categories: medication management, daily living, fall prevention, memory, hearing, vision, communication, and mobility.
They’re now available through the research project website by creating a simple online account. Viewers are asked to consider participating in a survey to help the researchers understand why more people don’t use assistive technologies. After the survey period, access to the videos will be open to everyone.
To increase interest in both the survey and the life-changing technologies, the student researchers have begun hosting presentations and showing the videos at senior centers, disease support group meetings, and other regional venues and events. They’re also providing the information to health professionals and caregivers nationwide.
Healthcare professionals who viewed the videos praised both their breadth of information and brevity. They recommend that older adults learn about the variety of assistive devices before they begin to experience physical or cognitive changes, Tam said.
Opening up a ‘new world’
One woman who attended a Spokane presentation told Tam the information “opened up a new world” for her. Such revelations underscore the project’s importance, Tam said.
“These devices can be immensely valuable to a large portion of our population,” said Schmitter-Edgecombe. The National Institutes of Health reported that some assistive technologies can actually reduce disability and promote positive health and behavioral changes.
“One of the most gratifying aspects of this research project is knowing that we’re helping people overcome obstacles to enjoying fuller lives,” Schmitter-Edgecombe said.
This research is supported by a grant from the Washington State attorney general’s office. Project co-PIs are Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, professor of psychology; Catherine Van Son, assistant professor of nursing; and Dennis Dyck, professor of psychology, vice chancellor of research, and associate vice provost for research, WSU Spokane.