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The Caregivers' High-tech Gift List

The end-of-year holidays provide opportunities to relax and spend time with family and friends. For adult children who are caregivers, this period provides an excellent opportunity to see how Mom and Dad are getting along, and if there is anything that can be done to make their lives easier.

Many families also exchange gifts this time of season, so I’d like to describe some electronic gadgets and devices—from very affordable to expensive—that you can give loved ones to increase their safety and comfort and offer you greater peace of mind. The items range from the simple to the futuristic in terms of technological sophistication. I hope you see something that might make an appropriate gift for someone in your care.

Microchips in Our Lives: Digital technology is everywhere, and it is becoming more affordable for many households. Whether in a computer or laptop, a personal digital assistant, or a cell phone, digital devices hold tremendous power to connect us to resources and people. The business, home and social technology that we often take for granted can seem foreign and scary to people not accustomed to using it every day.

Sending a parent a Web cam in the hopes that he or she will set it up and chat every day with you or the grandchildren might be unrealistic. To help your loved one become comfortable using technological resources, such as e-mail, voice, and video over the Internet or mobile text messages, consider giving him or her a gift certificate for an introductory lesson.

Senior centers, community colleges, and computer stores often schedule beginner classes on popular computer programs. Local businesses that specialize in technology assistance offer one-on-one instruction in the home. The key is to make sure the class is geared to the recipient's technological skills and uses the same equipment or software version as the user has.

Gadgets and Gizmos: Older adults age very differently, so I’m going to describe several different products that might be applicable to your loved one’s situation. These gifts have the potential to simplify their lives and provide you with a greater sense that they are safe. There are a couple of Web sites that I recommend if you want to furthur explore these and other gifts: www.caring.com/checklists/useful-gadgets-for-elderly and www.silverssummit.com

Land and Mobile Phones: Some phones have small keys that can be difficult for older adults to push or see. There are a number of big-button phones on the market that are much easier to use; others have back-lit numbers to help with vision. In addition, many have programmable features that allow for a single button to be pushed that connects your loved one to you, an emergency provider, or another family member or friend.

For caregivers with loved ones who have memory problems, there are even phones that have spaces for pictures you can place by each speed-dial codel. So when your loved one wants to call you, he or she can simply push the button with your picture next to it to call you. Other phones have voice-activated features, so all Mom has to say is your name and the phone dials the number. The bottom line: The easier it is to make the call, the more likely your loved one will stay in touch with you.

Housekeeping Help: For some, keeping up with housework can get to be a big problem. But technology is offering us solutions here as well. At many big box retailers, robotic cleaners are available that can vacuum and wash floors. They aren’t as charismatic as Rosy on “The Jetsons,” but they do the job and may help prevent falls. These tools will be just as popular with college-age students as well as older adults!

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