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Labor Day: Aging in Place, Caregiving & Technology

by Louis on September 7, 2010

Caregiving mirrors the social security insolvency dilemma in one important respect: the number of older folks who are needy is growing while the supply pool is shrinking. Ezra Klein covers the social security insolvency issue in Sunday’s Washington Post in some detail. One line sticks out, “As Stephen C. Goss, the system’s chief actuary, has written, Social Security projects an imbalance “because birth rates dropped from three to two children per woman.” That means there are relatively fewer young people paying for the old people.”

Caregiving is similar. The National Alliance for Caregiving, the MetLife Foundation and AARP released a report in December 09 called Caregiving in the US. One of the report’s conclusions is, “As the baby boom generation ages over the next 25 years, the numbers of people needing care will swell.  The numbers of younger people available to provide care are likely to dwindle.” The report adds that technology will probably play a larger role to fill the gap.

The report and the situation calls for more and better support for caregivers.  Caregiver support usually refers to monitoring and communication technologies, respite, education and validation. I think design modifications and assistive technologies should get more attention when talking caregiver supporting technologies.

Most caregiving occurs in homes in the community. Most homes were not designed for caregiving. The maneuvering spaces, particularly in the bathroom, are just not adequate for two people let alone, wheelchairs, walkers or crutches to operate.

People were also not designed for caregiving. Lifting and transferring involves lifting while reaching away from your center of gravity. This is the opposite of lifting techniques taught in industrial, construction and warehousing- to use your knees and hold the load close to your body.

Bags of mortar and bundles of shingles, traditionally carried on shoulders, weigh about 80 lbs. Care recipients weigh more. In addition they feel. The only sanctioned carrying of another individual, the firemen’s carry uses a technique similar to the shingles and mortar, the load is hoisted to the shoulders so the weight bears down through the bones.

Wikipedia says “Ergonomics is the science of designing jobs, equipment and workplaces to fit workers.” That is what we need for homecare, safe ergonomic caregiving environments!  Spaces designed and equipment available so caregiving can be done safely! Remodeling homes using the principles of Universal Design and paying attention to the tasks and space required for caregving is smart and important.

Equipment designed for patient lifting is also smart. Capital investments that save wear and tear on labor is always a wise investment. The labor pool is used more wisely and expensive, labor wasting injuries are avoided. This is always true but more clear when when labor is in short supply.

Patient floor lifts are somewhat familiar, particularly in insitutional care environments like rehab units. Hoyer lifts are the brand name that defines the product although many brands are available.They resemble medieval torture equipment. Floor lifts are difficult for one caregiver to operate, the norm in most homecare situations. They are VERY difficult to use in tight spaces.

Ceiling lifts, a more advanced equipment configuration are a much better tool for homecare. They are more comfortable for the client, require more floor space and are easy for one caregiver to use.Tracks can be installed from wall to wall, bolted to the ceiling joists or rafters. There are  fixed units like that pictured above as well as portable units that can be used in multiple rooms or homes. There are quite a few manufacturers active in the market.

Agencies and institutions recognize multiple benefits from ceiling lifts . Attracting and retaining workers is easier when you demonstrate concern for their health and safety. Strength is eliminated as a factor in hiring…hire the best person for the job, not the strongest. Worker’s comp rates drop. Caregivers can concern themselves with the client, not worry about their own safety every moment they are on the job. Clients retention improves for home care and assisted living because client transferring needs no longer determine the limits. Clients are happier, too…knowing they are safe through using a tool designed for their situation.

We started thinking about caregiving, recognizing the value, import and shortage of our caregiving labor force. As with so many things in Aging and Aging in Place, if we think smart, concern for worker and client safety, using our resources as efficiently and effectively as possible, everyone benefits.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

firstSTREET September 22, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Louis, I think you make a very astute observation about technology serving both seniors and caregivers. The innovations available, such as those which you mentioned here, have never before been so available or affordable. As you said, with the coming bubble in the senior population and the lack of caregivers, the technology realm must take up the slack. Thanks for sharing the report!

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